Newsletter May 2024

2023 Study on Leadership: Self-Reflection and Feedback are Essential

A September 2023 study on leadership, “Knowing but not Enacting Leadership: Navigating the Leadership Knowing-Doing Gap in Leveraging Leadership Development“ by Amal Ahmadi and Bernd Vogel at the University of Reading, has shed light on the phenomena of what managers know about leadership (e.g., conceptual and procedural knowledge) does not necessarily predict what they do (applying their knowledge in organizations).

This research explored the leadership Knowing-Doing Gap, which is defined as a discrepancy between managers’ leadership knowing and the extent to which they transfer it into leadership doing. The researchers analyzed 65 critical incidents from interviews with 22 managers in leadership roles across various organizational levels in the United Kingdom.

Three Key Findings Summarized

#1 Managers are not always aware of their leadership knowing-doing gap at the moment. When asked how the leadership knowing-doing gap presents itself in the context of leadership, two clusters emerged. One cluster showed descriptions of the gap as an experience that participants are aware of. A second emerged as a gap that they are not aware of at the moment but become aware of over time through reflection or feedback.

In other words, either managers are aware of the gap -> and feel uncomfortable -> and avoid it (which will be addressed below), or they have self-reflected or received feedback on this behavior. In essence, a strong, healthy feedback culture and a willingness to self-reflect are both essential to first identify a possible gap.

#2 About 75% of respondents reported that such Knowing-Doing Gaps trigger negative effects: frustrated, irritated, annoyed, angry, worried, guilty, etc., within themselves. Respondents reported they felt nervous and uncomfortable when enacting their knowledge (= using their skills in a particular situation), but when they had managed to close the gap, they reported feeling relieved, happy, strong, and proud.

These gaps were closed when participants proactively solicited feedback, shared their 360° results with their team & asked them to help hold them accountable for their growth, and stopped to consciously reflect after incidents (What went well? What can I do better or differently next time?).

#3 Three primary personal factors emerged from leaders who enacted their leadership knowledge (e.g., applied a new leadership skill) in order to close the knowledge-doing gap: motivation, prioritization, and confidence.

In other words:

  • Is there an intrinsic motivation to lead?
  • Is leadership truly a priority for the individual? i.e., Do they make the time for it?
  • Do leaders believe in themselves and believe they have what it takes?

Key Takeaways for Organizations

Yes, building leadership skills in individuals is of the essence, but there’s a catch. If organizations want leaders to enact their knowledge, they need to build a strong feedback culture (peer-to-peer and employee-to-manager) AND encourage self-reflection. Both feedback and self-reflection can be trained. Quite honestly, my experience is that many people have never learned how to self-reflect, and many others don’t muster up the courage to proactively ask for feedback.

In addition, understanding the motivation of leaders and helping them make it a priority (do they have or make the time for it) is also of the essence. Self-confidence can be fostered through reassurance and positive feedback from peers and senior management.

If organizations want their leadership trainings to pay off, a solid foundation of feedback and self-reflection needs to be intact. If you would like a copy of this article or would like to find out how I can help you and/or your team close the Knowing-Doing Gap, please send me an email.

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