How To Put Theory Into Practice

Dec 13, 2019Business Development, Coaching0 comments

“The question you want to ask yourself is how you can (re-) design every aspect of your company in a way that defaults to doing and improvising versus planning. How many meetings do you have and how much time do you spend planning? And how could you use this time to build, learn, and iterate?”  -Pascal Finette, author of Practice Over Theory

How do you empower your team to get things done? In today’s fast-paced business environment, it’s not enough to encourage your team to use their skills. You need to empower them to develop new ones. Otherwise, you’re overplanning, which, according to author Pascal Finette, is the same as theorizing business. 

But, if you are always planning, how much time do you dedicate to transitioning your plans to action? And if the answer is not much, how much is your team actually getting done?

Check Your Mindset

When you move your organization forward, you need to adopt a mindset that is simultaneously oriented toward growth and action. Research shows that business leaders with a growth mindset believe they can learn new skills and have the attitude of “I can’t do this yet. But I will be able to.” Whereas, an action-oriented mindset lets you put your values, beliefs, and ideas into action. Without action, both you and your organization risk stagnation.

So, to take action, you and your team need to have the right knowledge, skills, and abilities. #Ladyboss Sharlyn Lauby defines how they are different. Knowledge is “the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject.” Skills are the “proficiencies developed through training or experience.” And abilities are the “qualities of being able to do something.”

As a business leader, you are responsible for empowering your team to develop and practice their knowledge, skills, and abilities daily. This demonstrates that you are dedicated to your team’s personal and professional growth, and want to see them expand their influence. 

Know Your Skills

For you, as a business leader, there are some skills you should always be practicing. This does not mean internalizing or intellectualizing these skills, but taking actionable steps to exercise these skills. 

But what skills are most important to build and practice? Research shows that when you develop your human, technical, and conceptual skills, you are more likely to level up in business. 

Human skills are based on relationships and affect how you communicate with others. These are the skills that help you influence and motivate your team so they can effectively accomplish organizational goals. But they are not the same as interpersonal skills. Human skills open you to ideas from all sources, increases empathy toward others’ motivators, and helps you accommodate your team members. 

Technical skills are the processes and techniques that grow your organization. These skills are based on possessing the knowledge necessary to do the required work. While your technical skills may not allow you to step in for your front-line team, you should know and communicate the standard operating procedures and how they apply to organizational goals. 

As you are further promoted, you will continue to move away from applying the tools of the industry toward implementing your organization’s vision and goals. 

Conceptual skills are the skills that allow you to see the big picture. You can take abstract ideas, develop them into actionable strategies, and communicate them through all levels of your organization effectively.  These skills merge individual ideas and organizational vision for the future and become increasingly important each time you move up in the organization. To be effective, leaders must communicate their ideas clearly so that every person in the organization can understand. 

What Happens When We Don’t Practice?

Finette explains that, in theory, everyone fundamentally understands the necessity of these skills. And yet, “in practice, we seem often to ignore our understanding and still build in the old ways (which in turn puts us at a tactical and strategic disadvantage to our competitors).” We do this because of our comfort with the status quo. Let’s face it, change is hard. We read about and study what needs to change. We learn how to change, but we resist the work that will help us grow. 

In his work, Practice is More Important Than Theory, author and coach Steven Handel explores the question: “So what happens when we don’t practice and just theorize?” We often think about and research possibilities to the extent that we hinder ourselves from taking action. Commonly, we refer to doing nothing because of the overwhelming number of options as paralysis by analysis. When faced with paralysis in business, coaches help you overcome feelings of loss or overwhelm. 

According to Educational Psychologist Tarmo Toikkanen, “What organizations and individuals need is competence, which requires the abilities and skills to apply knowledge to accomplish tasks and solve problems.” In other words, it is necessary to put theory into practice. Putting theory into action, with intent and reflection, ensures that you will continually improve. As leaders, we are good at we do, but we often fear to make mistakes as we learn to do something new. But practice, and sometimes making mistakes in the process, is how we become better leaders.

Put Theory Into Practice

“In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is.” – Yogi Berra 

According to Malcolm Gladwell, in his bestselling book Outliers, it takes ten-thousand hours of practice to become an expert at something. But according to Josh Kaufman, author of the bestseller The Personal MBA, it only takes about twenty hours of practice to become “pretty good” at something. So, to make those first twenty of your ten-thousand hours really count, here are six ways to put theory into practice:

  1. Acknowledge the challenge. This means accepting the difficulty and let every setback be a learning opportunity.
  2. Limit the scope. There is training available on such a wide variety of things, it is not possible to master them all. Leaders should focus on putting a few things that will enhance their work and their team into practice.
  3. Commit time. This means setting a time on your calendar, preferably every day, to work on your development of the new skill.
  4. Leverage tools and materials in the program. Practice using the resources that are available so that you are comfortable with them when you need them.
  5. Create practice partnerships. This means working with peers and holding each other accountable for practicing. It is also a great way to get feedback.
  6. Consider coaching. A good coach will help in creating a plan, offer feedback, and help you remain accountable.

We’re practicing all the time because our brain is always learning and absorbing. According to Marc Gelfo, founder of Modacity, practice is anything you repeat regularly. This seems to miss the intentionality needed in practice to improve. Coaches lead practice sessions, add the intentionality, and follow- up to enhance “the absorption, mastery, and maintenance of skills,” as creator Andrew Pouska puts it. 

If you still aren’t sure about how to begin putting theory into practice, a coach is a great place to start.  Suzanne Coonan, author of Coaching Works: Here’s Why, explains that individuals who work with a coach “achieve challenging goals and gain greater satisfaction in work and life.” This is because a great coach focuses on you and helps you navigate your obstacles, ranging from human resources strategies to running multiple projects across diverse teams.

How A Coach Can Help Your Business

Many leaders carry the misconception that understanding something, meaning that studying a subject, is enough to succeed. However, this method fails to develop skills or enhance abilities and does not allow you or your team to feel secure in trying situations.  Practice does. And as anyone who played sports growing up knows, practice is best done with a coach. 

Coaches offer:

  • Awareness. Coaches help us become aware of behaviors that help or hinder our growth.
  • Alignment. Coaches work with leaders to help ensure that the skill(s) the leader is developing is in line with organizational goals.
  • Action. Coaches will help you create written SMART goals, which are the basis for an action plan. They provide a timetable for you to reach your expected outcomes.
  • Accountability. Coaches will monitor your progress and make sure that you have taken care of your agreed-upon action items to the best of your ability. 
  • Acceleration. Coaches help you create your goals, hold you accountable, and make sure you practice. This ensures that you will achieve the desired results much faster than if you attempted to reach them on your own.

Putting theory into practice requires work and change. It is risky, but as you start to see positive results, you will want to learn more. It’s time you find a coach that will help you get to the next level! 


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