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Espoused Theory VS Theory-in-Use

What follows is the a run down of "In Theory" versus "In Reality" in regard to how we look at the world and how we should actually operate in it. As leaders, it is important not to project our own position onto our followers and expect the same outcomes or result as what we would have done ourselves. If our followers were everything we believe we are, chances are you would not be the leader in that particular situation.

Espoused Theories

My “Espoused theories” represent the most ideal of circumstances and opportunities when it comes to my professional position. Regardless of intrapersonal, interpersonal and leadership communication, I tend to compare and contrast the positions of employees and co-workers to that of mine own.

From an intrapersonal perspective, I tend to tell myself that everyone is equal. From the top down and regardless of what job or career someone may find themselves currently holding. In many ways I believe this to the core. This comes with some issues that are often hard to ignore though. Regardless, equality is key and via equality, much can be accomplished.

There is also the belief that everyone is not only equal, but because they are equal and wish to be treated as equals, that capabilities must also be similar in thought to that of “if one can do it, so must another”. A great example of this would be in the idea I would personally not ask someone else to do something that I was neither capable nor willing to do myself. This is a great way to establish expectation among those who work with me or under me.

By establishing the preceding, there would be no reason why a certain task could not be completed within the desired or requested time frames or workload. The idea that if I can do it, anyone could do it is paramount because I do not believe that I am anything special or magnanimous to the degree that someone could not follow my lead.

Interpersonally speaking, I will provide abundant amounts of information from a higher level perspective, a logical perspective as well as a historical perspective because I understand that knowledge is power, and the last thing I would want to do is render my team powerless or talk down to them as though they had a weak vocabulary.

The idea is that if I empower them by providing this information on a level remotely close to where I believe I find myself, we will have the most dynamic and intellectually sound team the organization has ever seen. We will be able to problem solve and innovate as though the company hired some outside firm who specializes in innovations or ground breaking procedures meant to improve processes or increase profitability.

Because of this new found power and because of the ideas that will undoubtedly ensue in response to this new found knowledge base, co-workers and employees will take the information and run with it. They will not only continue to empower themselves, making their own positions and futures even more solid, but they will pay it forward to empower others who had once found themselves in similar shoes to the employee or co-worker I just shared the information with. This pay-it-forward mentality will spread like a virus and infect the entire company.

This is literally leadership by example and by doing so, others will simply follow because of the excellent example that I have set forth. Everyone will see how the high level of knowledge has improved my confidence, and how the hard work seems to have paid off in numerous ways that radiate from my being. Who would not want to ascend to the same level of knowledge and experience, insight, or perhaps even surpass what I have achieved once shown what the wonderful world of knowledge has to offer?

In general, the idea is that equality, communication, inspiration through knowledge and motivation via example will grab everyone and almost by osmosis, the team and possibly the entire company can become better, more ethical, smarter, and harder working than it already is.

That of course... is all in theory. If it were that easy, everyone would do it. German philosopher Immanuel Kant once said that "Experience without theory is blind, but theory without experience is mere intellectual play." I personally believe that intellectual play is useless without theory, and that experience and understanding comes with attempting to prove our theories.


Of course, espoused theories are a lot like communism in that they work great in theory, but reality and the human factor tend to change what is possible or even feasible in regard to what the perfect lab setting may provide. As so eloquently stated by Cooley, “simply bringing together a group of professionals does not ensure that this group will function effectively as a team or make appropriate decisions”. (Cooley, 1996) (de Janasz, Dowd, & Schneider, 2012)

The truth is that while everyone is born equal, not everyone is motivated by the same factors let alone even physically capable of the same tasks. This is true not only in the workplace, but in life as general. It does not take much to see that people cannot and do not produce equally in thoughts, skills, motivations, or even ideas. This is why there are managers and employees, cops and robbers, craftsmen and servers, doctors and patients. Simply put, not everyone is capable or motivated to do the same things and no one can know all.

This is not to say that this is bad. There is a place for everyone in this great circle of life. Some people prefer and thrive in a natural environment, but struggle and perhaps have a hard time understanding life in the big city. Some people simply cannot grasp algebra but excel in geometry. Some people can pick up a musical instrument and play amazing music without even so much as a single lesson, while the person next to them will pick up the same instrument and simply make noise. In other words, you are special, just like everyone else.

Another way to express the complexities of this point would be in the idea that even in our great nation, we have personal, city, state, and federal governments, all of which can and often do contradict or conflict with one another. Within these segments are several different parties consisting of very different ideologies. We could examine religion and find the same.

Furthermore, knowledge is not always valued by others. Some are quite content with the idea of being ignorant to their surroundings. Some are quite content with simply following what they were told or sold at some point earlier in their lives. The term “ignorance is bliss” is an old one, but I venture to say it is still very much a valid expression considering the reality this great nation finds itself in today.

The point is that setting expectations on others that are equal or compared to my own ideals, motivations, or background is counter-intuitive and highly unfair to those I would place such expectation upon. For instance, I have a hard time sitting down to do something and not completing the task before walking away. As I sit here and write this article, I have a hard time even breaking for a few minutes. This work mentality or ethic simply cannot be expected of others as some may require breaks to gather their thoughts. Once again, everyone is different.

Not everyone is motivated by the same factors. Some people are motivated by money and perks. Some people are motivated by task completion. Some people are motivated by more personal factors that will forever remain a mystery. My motivations of knowledge will do little for the money motivated individual unless I can bridge the necessity (or the payoff) between knowledge and money. There are some I would never be able to motivate, as they are self motivated.

This is why education can be such a struggle for some. Simply teaching the lesson does not ensure that the information will stick in the minds of those being taught. As Dr. McConkey has stated, information may be shown to many but the information is being interpreted one person at a time. (McConkey, 2013) This also lends to the idea that some may interpret something other than what was provided; some may not have interpreted anything at all. Some may not even care to listen in the first place. Of course, some may simply not appreciate the lesson. Some may not care about the history of the event. Perhaps there is no concept of importance because they were not a part of that history. A great example of this might be in someone who starts off with a company and was able to watch it grow due in part to their own participation. Their engagement and ownership in the ideas of the company will be substantially higher than those who are on-boarding after the company has reached the “Fortune” level.

The information available may not be valued by the person receiving it. I can imagine an employee who perhaps believes his employment will be temporary until he or she can “find something better”. That person will probably acquire just enough information to get that paycheck at the end of the week. If and or when this person decides to remain with the company, the pertinent information necessary for higher level thought in that position will have to be revisited at some point. Of course, there are some people in this world who just do not care about anything and can only be motivated through their next meal.

Essentially, I could lead by example but I must remember that leadership by example only works on those who are inspired by the action itself. If integrity is something that is valued, the example will be followed. However, some simply do not care about integrity and believe that the company has deep enough pockets and can absorb the loss from reaching into the register and taking a few bucks each shift, or taking a few extra supplies for their home office.

In general, the idea is that equality, communication, inspiration through knowledge and motivation via example will not grab or motivate everyone. Sure, there are a select few who will be on the same page as I am naturally. I would imagine this percentage being somewhere around the three percent range if I had to guess. For the remaining 97% of the field, there will undoubtedly be a certain percentage I am not equipped to reach whatsoever. Perhaps this too is the same percentage of those I would reach absolutely.

So for the ninety four percent in the middle, there are certain measures and or tactics that will need to be employed in order to really reach them. Those who have different motivational factors must be motivated by whatever means they need, not necessarily what is easy to provide. In order to inspire followers to become better, more ethical, smarter, and harder working than they already are, you have to reach out to them and not necessarily expect them to reach out for you.

Plan to Improve the Approach

I think a decent plan to attempt change, but more importantly, improve the approach in implementation of my espoused theories of leadership communication and conflict resolution in my world-of-work would be to accept reality as it is and work within the bounds it provides.

The truth of the matter is that I recognize the difference between a perfect world and the world we live in, and while many continue to contort and perhaps make our world a more dangerous place by pushing perfect world ideals, I prefer a more logical approach.

To begin with, we must understand that we will not get along with everyone that we meet. We will not be the hero that everyone is looking for and we will undoubtedly rub some people the wrong way. This is a fact of life and by embracing this idea, we will set ourselves up for success because such road blocks can often derail a plan of action when it is unexpected or not planned for.

We will continually improve ourselves, our perceptions, and our positions by mitigating our expectations of others when compared to our desired outcome. For instance, expecting someone to do what I am both willing and capable to do is unrealistic in many instances. I have been blessed in many different ways thanks to my blood and my upbringing. It needs to be remembered that some are simply not as lucky.

A great example of this would be the idea that I consistently graduated in the top one percent of my class. I cannot expect every one of my followers to do that. It would be unrealistic for me to expect such a thing based on percentages alone, not to mention the motivational factors that pushed me to achieve these marks. I push to be the top of my class because I strive to be a valued addition to the Donnachaidh name. Some could care less as long as they cross the mark. Still, some would not make the trek in the first place.

The point is that many simply could not follow that example. Recently, I went on a camping trip where we were going deep into the woods. Some in the party had to take numerous rests due to the pace and weight of our rucks. Packing a 100lb ruck and trekking through a mountain would be unrealistic for many. This would be especially true for the small and unmotivated.

This is where an increase in communication and dialog with co-workers and employees would not only benefit the mission at hand, but would also benefit my ability to lead and to further engage and inspire. The idea is to constantly work towards an environment or atmosphere of collaboration. (Goodwin & Griffith, 2007) Simply stated, by increasing communication and dialog with others, I can increase my awareness of their motivations, capabilities, desires, expectations, etc. While acquiring this information, I can formulate a plan to motivate and or inspire on a level more conducive to their receiving preference.

This can be accomplished through an open door scenario. Simply encouraging openness and transparency with followers will go a long way in almost any regard of leadership. As you have probably learned by now, open communication is critical if we are to solve many of the issues we face both in our personal lives and in our business lives. We need to be that leader who encourages others to open up and communicate, to be the leader they feel comfortable turning to with questions, to be an ally they can come to with suggestions, and the concerned partner they can address grievances with.

This type of atmosphere fosters an environment of collaboration, high performance, and mutual respect between leaders and followers. It is a quality management practice and mechanism that serves to sustain follower empowerment and morale, while maintaining a vital effect on improving efficiency, productivity, growth, and ethical standards. (HP, 2012)

Perhaps the critical element of the plan is to understand that I am merely one person in over seven billion people on the planet today. Perhaps a more intriguing way to look at it is that I am a single drop in over 57 billion people who have ever lived. (Good, 2011) My ideas while decent at times, will not be the best, they will not always work, and they will not be the last.

In other words, the crucial element of the plan is to humble myself continually while striving to make myself, my team, and my position better. Not to strive for perfection per say, but to simply strive for “better than yesterday”, even if that means it is done by baby steps. As long as there is recognized room for improvement, things will get better. In theory! 🙂


Cooley, E. (1996). Training an Interdisciplinary Team in Communication and Decision-making Skills. Small Group Research 25 , 6.

de Janasz, S. C., Dowd, K. O., & Schneider, B. Z. (2012). Interpersonal Skills in Organizations 4th Edition. New York: McGraw - Hill Irwin.

Good, J. (2011, May 9). Crunching the numbers: How many people have ever lived? . Retrieved Nov 1, 2013, from 1000 Memories:

Goodwin, J., & Griffith, D. B. (2007). The Conflict Survival Kit. Upper Saddle River: Pearson Prentice Hall.

(2012). Open Door Policy. Retrieved Nov 01, 2013, from

McConkey, D. B. (Director). (2013). The Power of Communication in Leadership & Inspiration [Motion Picture].

David Robertson

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