Theories are good things. They help us dream about the possibilities. I had theories of what parenting would be like before I had my first child. Let me give you an example of one. Before we were parents, we actually said that our kids would eat healthy and we will not stop at McDonalds. That theory went out the window during our first road trip. As I stepped into my first pastorate, I had theories as well. I would be well planned, focused and never allow myself to get distracted in my office. After about a month of meetings on the master plan, the finances, the church governance, the renovation, the staff, the outreach, and the other ministries, I realized that my theories were no good.
In Manfred Kets De Vries book, Leadership Mystique: Leading Behavior in the Human Enterprise, he challenges the theory of leadership. In his preface, he states:
Only a fraction of the strategies that are formulated in organizations are effectively executed. Most people aren’t very good at synchronizing vision and action, at aligning ideas and execution. Anyone dealing in ideas needs to take into consideration people’s ability to implement those ideas. Navel gazing alone doesn’t take visionaries past the drawing board. Leaders, to be successful, must understand action as well as theory (p. xxii).
Kets De Vries will go on and shape his entire book by helping leaders act or execute their ideas by addressing various topics in the field of leadership.
Many people believe leaders are born. I, however, believe that leadership is a discipline, and I believe Kets De Vries would support this. The difference or link between leadership theory and leadership practice is discipline. Most people do not want to engage in practice because it is rarely clean and easy, but it can be messy and frustrating. An example of this is Kets De Vries discussion on change. As he points out people do not willingly embrace change because they prefer the status quo. As a leader, one has to realize that to change a person truly or even an organization, then the heart has to change as well and this is what Kets De Vries points out in his “5 C’s” of change: concern, confrontation, clarification, crystallization and change. Leaders and organization talk a great deal about change, but because of the difficult process of changing people’s hearts, they focus merely on the theory of change and fail to execute. The difference between theory and action in change is discipline.
Another area where we Kets De Vries draws this out is in his chapter entitled: The Dilbert Phenomenon. He states that organizational rhetoric rarely matches reality. A quick scan of church life could prove this true. In the early to mid-90s, church around America began writing mission and vision statements. They would be framed and put in the hallway. There might even be great graphics surrounding the statement. But, many of the statements were forgotten because the rhetoric of the organization rarely matched the reality. Quite possibly the reason many of them failed was due to the lack of discipline.
In Kets De Vries book, I see this gap everywhere. Theories stay on a desk because leaders lack the fundamental discipline it takes to execute. Leaders are not born. Leaders are made through the discipline of execution. They allow their words and their deeds to line up.