My Blog

The Most Problematic Leadership Gap: The Knowing-Doing Gap

There are many leadership theories, many leadership programs and executive programs and yet there is still a leadership gap, according to research from all over the world.


The most problematic leadership gap, given all the great theories and programs, is the Knowing-Doing Gap.


Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton state in their book, “The Knowing-Doing Gap: How smart companies turn knowledge into action” that knowing ‘what’ to do is not enough in terms of best practice management theories and knowledge – whether it’s TQM, Kaizen, other ‘codified’ or informal practices. The Knowing-Doing Gap with leadership theories and knowledge is the same. Knowing is not enough.


In some cases the theories are difficult to apply or programs are not effective. In other cases the leaders simply do not apply what they have learned or the organisation does not support the process of applying the knowledge. Applying is more challenging than acquiring the knowledge. It is not helping us to close the leadership gap.


When we have a Knowing-Doing Gap:

  • We don’t apply and model what we know or have learned
  • We do not reinforce or support others to apply what they know or have learned
  • We de-prioritise our own and others’ development, despite saying that leadership and capabilities are critical to business success
  • We perceive our abilities as being better than what others perceive them to be


In many cases the Knowing Doing Gap is not intentional. Leaders are busy and genuinely don’t realise that the gap or the impact of the gap. Most of us have a knowing doing gap in some aspect of our behaviours – like not exercising when we know we should.


Here are a few reasons why we have a Knowing Doing Gap:


1. Barriers and Excuses: We don’t DO what we know because of busy-ness, pressure of other priorities, lack of focus, insufficient support or because it’s too difficult.

2. Self-deception: We think we’re already DOING it when we’re not because we know it or because we are smart and/or senior.

3. Intention/Impact mismatch: We have the right intention but it’s not landing because we’re not quite skilled enough or we are not aware of the impact/result of our DOING.

4. Internal resistance: We try to DO but find it difficult to let go of old habits/behaviours because of unconscious resistance to the changes such as fear of failure (refer to Immunity to Change by Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey).

5. Unconvinced: We don’t believe we need to DO because we’re already successful or because we’re not aware of or care enough about the why - benefits of doing or cost of not doing.


How much Knowing-Doing Gap do you see in others or yourself? What is stopping us from closing the gap? What has helped?

My Blog

  • Bust these myths and pick the right talent for the job
  • Is your inner calm muscle getting enough exercise?
  • Calm in the chaos