How to Put Leadership Theory into Practice

When Greg and I started on our journey of developing our leadership business, we were told by many people that they were very interested in learning how to put leadership theory into practice. We were told that there is a lot of theory out there but that there is very little in the way of practical leadership tips.

At Online Leadership Network, we made it our mission to not just provide leadership theory but to teach how to apply it in practice.


When we write our articles, we sill ensure that we are giving some theory to you. The articles, as they are longer than our newsletters, tend to contain some theory.

This is intentional.

While our articles are full of “how to” sections and are focused on the practical aspects of leadership, we want you to gain a strong knowledge base on leadership topics, as this will help you understand your role as a leader.

So, no matter how focused you are on the performance of leadership, you still need some theory to back it all up.


When I started reading about some leadership theories around twenty years ago, I read them because I wanted to learn from past leaders on what worked and what did not.

I will admit, my deep dive into leadership theory was not as focused as it could have been, nor did I read about leadership on a consistent basis. I was like many people who wanted the practical side of leadership given to me as I felt there was too much theory out there.

When I went to do my Masters, I really did a deep dive into leadership theory. I was able to see that what I was doing fit some very sound leadership practices, which validated what I had done in the past.

At Online Leadership Network, we made it our mission to not just provide leadership theory but to teach how to apply it in practice.

When you learn about leadership theory, whether it is from us or another source, you read materials that make putting leadership theory into practice a validating experience, even to new leaders.


When it comes to putting leadership theory into practice, the onus is on you. You need to “read responsibly”.

What does this mean?

You need to pay attention to what you are reading, take actual or mental notes on what you find useful and then figure out how to put it in practice.

Even with our articles and newsletters giving you practical tips, you need to try them out to see if they work and modify as needed. Otherwise, they are just words on a piece of paper or a computer screen or a phone. In short, you need to act and put whatever theory resonates with you into practice.


My answer to this question may shock you a bit. While I do not think there is such a thing as too much theory, I also believe that any one person or group of leaders can get bogged down with too much theory.

It is good that there is an ocean of leadership theory out there so that people do have an option to focus on aspects of leadership that interest them. However, if you are so focused on theory that you do not put what you are learning into practice, you risk becoming confused and overwhelmed with too much information.

In addition, you will always be reading and thinking about leadership rather than practicing it.



I am about to share with you a formula that should work for any type of situation where you want to put theory into practice. For this example, I will be referring to another article I wrote, What is a Values-Based Leader?

  • STEP 1: Identify the theory you want to put into practice. It can be an article, chapter of a book, YouTube video, etc..
  • STEP 2: Pick out three aspects of the material you have chosen that you want to put into practice. I suggest three items so that you do not overwhelm yourself. In my previous article, the three points I want to put into practice are:

    1) talk about my values
    2) ask others about their values
    3) learn the values of the organization

    When you figure out what you want to put into practice, it may be helpful to develop a list so that you can keep track.
  • STEP 3: For each piece of theory you want to put into practice, develop 3 actionable items that you can put into practice. For example, one of my points was to learn about other people’s values. My three actionable points could be:

    1) Ask Peter about his values
    2) Engage in at least 2 values-based conversations at work
    3) Incorporate values-based conversations in my staff supervisions.
  • STEP 4: I would suggest having 1-3 of these types of actionable lists going at once. After a while, you will find that these types of actionable lists will become second nature and you will find that you can replace one list for another.

    Also, there may be times when you find certain actionables not working for you. This is fine. Perhaps you need to modify them, or you may even decide that something on the list does not fit your style of leadership. That is fine. This process allows you to experiment with what does and does not work.


I will personally say that I love to read about leadership theory. I am at the point in my life and career that I can assimilate the information at a decent rate. One of the reasons why is that I can connect theory with approaches I have taken in the past, even very early on in my career.

I am excited for new leaders when they experience the validation that comes from reading a piece of leadership theory which they have practiced without reading about if.

An example from my life occurred when I was taking a Conflict Analysis and Management course. As a leader, I always believed that it was important to utilize strengths of each individual on the team while acknowledging people’s challenges and having the team support and offset those challenges. I came to learn that there was a term for this: positive interdependence.

If you experience these types of realizations, please let us know in comments below how you are putting leadership theory into practice.

Most importantly, however, if you want to learn how to put leadership theory into practice, the best way to do so is to receive our newsletters. Each newsletter focuses on a topic of leadership and is designed to give you actionable, “how-to” steps to become a great leader. Subscribe right now!

John Maloney
John Maloney is a leadership instructor, a life coach and a contributing writer at Online Leadership Network. He has over 22 years of experience as a front line staff, team leader and program coordinator at a large non-profit organization, as well as a Masters Degree in Interdisciplinary Studies with focus on Leadership in the 21st Century.


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