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You need to be both a student and a practitioner.

I am a huge proponent of anyone in a formal leadership position, or aspiring to move into a formal leadership position, to be a student of leadership. Being a student is essential, but it is not enough.

You can read all the books, review all the research, attended the workshops, get the certificate or degree, watch all the talks, listen to the podcasts but, if you never apply what you are learning then you are doing nothing to serve those you have the privilege and honour to lead.

Knowledge is not power. It is potential, the potential to improve our performance and to help others grow and develop. Knowledge is only useful when it is applied and shared. Knowledge of leadership principles, concepts and practices is only useful if you are taking action and actually leading. I have seen some people in senior leadership positions, who are students of leadership; drop the ball on Leadership 101 issues. They have studied leadership, they say all the right things and write beautiful e-mails and messages, but that is where it ends. Their day-to-day leadership actions however, make it very clear that they do not practice what they have studied.

Being a practitioner without being a student can lead to the continuation of out dated practices not rooted in the research and will not best serving your people. Doing what you have always done just because it worked in the past is not acceptable. What you do is too important for you not to be learning, growing, challenging, changing, improving and applying what you are learning. Being a student also means getting feedback and taking time to reflect on what you have done, and are doing, to determine how you can improve and better serve those you lead.

You need to be both a student of leadership, and a practitioner who is actually leading and taking action and applying what you are learning. Being both a student and a practitioner allows you to connect the dots between the theory and the practice of leading. Being both a student and a practitioner allows you to be the best leader you can be in order to best serve those you have the privilege of leading.

The study part is easy. The practice part is hard and messy. Sometimes you will get it right and sometimes you will get it wrong. People do not expect you to be perfect, but they do expect you to demonstrate that you are striving to learn, grow and actually lead. They also expect you have the courage and humility to stand up and own up when you screw up or when you drop the ball.

Leading is hard work and it requires curiosity, courage, commitment and humility.

Remember that leadership is a choice and a journey and it starts with you. Choose well, keep learning and enjoy the journey.

Brian Willis

Register yourself, and your team for the Dare to Be Great: Strategies for Creating a Culture of Leading online workshop to get everyone on the same page regarding leadership and culture. If you are interested in hosting a live Dare to Be Great workshop reach out to me at