Effective Leadership: The Theory & Practice

Are leaders born or made? That appears to be an on-going question, but if you simply search for “leadership” on Amazon, you’ll find 124,676 titles currently available. There are, obviously, things to learn about leadership whether you are born a leader or are becoming one.

And becoming a more effective leader requires both knowing why and how. Leadership theory enables you to understand the why; leadership practice provides the how. Both theory and practice are essential.

Understanding the theory behind effective leadership provides a foundation for deeply knowing your self and your intrinsic motivation.

“Leadership is an uncommon composite of skill, experience, and ripened personal perspectives regarding the nuances and complexities of life,” write M. A. Soupious and Panos Mourdoukoutas in their new book The Ten Golden Rules of Leadership: Classical Wisdom for Modern Leaders. “Only those men and women who have cultivated a carefully conceived philosophy of life are capable of genuine leadership.”

This book provides ten rules such as “know thyself” and “do not waste energy on things you cannot change” to provide an overall theory for leaders to operate. Using inspiration and guidance from philosophers such as Aristotle, Hesiod, Sophocles, Heraclitus and Antisthenes, the authors contend this classical wisdom can be applied to the modern workplace.

The authors further posit that what distinguishes a real leader from a mere administrator, is “a unique series of perspectives and values.” This means employing methods and approaches reflecting clarity and insight that come from a well-examined life.

The practice of leadership requires a variety of methods and exercises to alter your mindset and behaviors to be more effective.

From the practice side of leadership learning is a book titled The Inner Edge: The 10 Practices of Personal Leadership by Joelle K. Jay. Here you’ll find helpful exercises for you to develop your inner life in service of improving your overall leadership capacity.

Jay outlines in practical terms how a leader’s inner life impacts his/her outer life:

“Your inner edge is the you behind the scenes: your thoughts and motivations, your aspirations, your plans, your decisions, your strengths and weaknesses, your values, and your way of becoming a success. Your outer edge is the you that you show the world: your words, your actions, and your interactions with the people around you. Your inner and outer edges are intimately related. The way you feel influences the way your act. Your actions affect your results. Your results determine the way you experience life. In order to be effective as a leader and in your life, you need to spend time on both your outer and inner edge.”

Using many examples from her executive coaching practice, Jay provides step-by-step exercises on how to make progress with each of the 10 practices. I think the practice called Find Fulfillment may be the most important, yet is rarely employed.

Finding fulfillment means ensuring your work and values are in synch. This requires deep introspection to be certain that what you do is aligned with who you are.

“When you find fulfillment, you don’t get burned out; you get fired up,” writes the author. “You put your talent to work, but you’re the one who feels rewarded. You experience those moments of greatness. You also get to lead a great life.”

Another practice she points to is All . . . All at Once, which involves putting the other nine practices to work together as one. The practice involves a state of mind where you can combine different ideas and think about them at the same time.

This integrative thinking is the mark of an exceptional leader, according to Roger Martin, dean of the Rotterman School of Management at the University of Toronto. “It is this discipline—not superior strategy or faultless execution—that is a defining characteristic of most exceptional businesses and the people who run them.”

Whether born or made, a leader can become more effective through a combination of theory and practice. Becoming a more effective leader requires knowing your inner self in order to best align with your outer self.

“In order to be a leader,” writes Jay. “. . . you’ve got to bring that learning and self-awareness out to the people you lead.”

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