Knowing about something is not the same as knowing how to do something. Here’s a completely made-up illustration.
All his life, Mike wanted to see the ocean. Growing up in a landlocked state in the middle of the country, he watched all of the shows on television about lifeguards and swimmers and people having fun in the ocean. One year. He finally got his chance. He planned his vacation to go to Southern California. There was just one problem; Mike didn’t know how to swim. Before his trip, he picked up several books about successful swimmers and the best swimming techniques and he read cover to cover. Before he got to California, he could tell you everything there was to know about swimming. As soon as he got there, Mike made of beeline for the beach. He ran across the sand jumped into the surf. The feeling of the waves crashing against him and the water filling his ears and his nose and stinging his eyes was something he did not anticipate. Mike quickly found himself over his head in ocean water. In a matter of moments, he had to be rescued.
Mike’s experience with swimming in the ocean is actually very similar to what many managers experience when it comes to leadership. They can read about what other people do, they can listen to experiences that other people have had. In the end, being an effective leader is something you have to do.
Knowledge is in the muscle
This reminds me of a saying from New Guinea that goes:
“knowledge is only rumor until it’s in the muscle”.
And this certainly applies to the situation where knowing about swimming isn’t the same thing as knowing HOW to swim.
Let’s take this to a practical leadership level.
It is not sufficient for leaders to be familiar with concepts, models, ideas, or theories.