Knowing v Embodying

Not long ago, I was facilitating a workshop for Principals on Leadership and technology and how to facilitate change.

About a third of the way through the morning a principal raised his hand. He was clearly frustrated and said,

“I already know about leadership. No offense. I’m just being honest.”

Wow! Was this the most arrogant S.O.B. in the world or was he just a great example of a school culture that confuses cognitive knowledge with real knowledge.

“I know about leadership….”

What the heck does it mean to “know about leadership?” Is it something that can be “known”? Is “knowing” simply being able to talk about a subject? Can you know about leadership and not display it? Was this Principal who “knew” about leadership actually a good leader?

It’s frustrating to encounter this definition of “knowing”. Having cognitive knowledge and insights is NOT the same as actually being able to apply the knowledge. “Knowing” about leadership is no substitute for being a leader.

It’s a shame that our schools have made knowledge -“knowing” – so abstract. Being able to apply what we learn is the ultimate test of our “knowing”.

Learning about science and doing science are two different things. It’s the same for all the subjects we teach.

So many of the people responsible for public education, themselves products of the system; including the gentleman who raised his hand to inform me that he “already knew about leadership”; want to keep knowledge abstract and cognitive.

The truth is, we can read books about leadership, listen to lectures, and talk to the wee hours of the morning about it; but none of those things alone will make us better leaders.

Can you imagine a great basketball player like Michael Jordan saying, “I already know about basketball; I don’t need to learn or practice anymore? In fact, it was just the opposite. The better Michael Jordan got, the more he practiced. It’s the same thing in Aikido. After years of training, getting to be a black belt isn’t the culmination of the work. It’s not the end point; but merely the beginning of the journey.

Ask any Principal or school administrator what makes an effective leader and in no time you will generate a great list of leadership attributes, insights, and tips and techniques. Obviously, these folks “know” about leadership. So how come there are so few effective leaders?

I may “know” what I have to do to lose weight; but I may continue to eat too much and drive past the gym.

I may “know” all the elements of giving a good speech; but be a terrible speaker.

Likewise, I may “know” the the characteristics of a great leader, yet not be able to lead effectively.

Taking our insights, ideas, and observations about leadership and deliberately putting them into action through the practice of leadership; is the step so many educators fail to take.

Leadership takes practice; it isn’t a tee-shirt that can be bought, “Leadership…been there, done that!”

…but then again, you already “knew” that, didn’t you


One thought on “Knowing v Embodying

  1. This post rings true about the mindset that some have that ‘I have been there done that.’ However, it is far from the truth. I have been involved with convincing teachers in workshops that there may be some cross curricular literacy strategies which will result in improved student success. Some say they already do the strategies, but they have only scratched the surface of their full potential. There is always room for improvement and enrichment.

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