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The Use of Evidence-Based Practice in the Field of Leadership Development


Evidence-based practice (EBP) is commonly used to inform practice decisions in the fields of medicine, nursing, social work, child welfare, and criminal justice.

These fields have established standards of practice that guide decision-making about what treatments and protocols to use with individual patients, clients, and offenders to ensure the highest possible accountability for producing good results.

How is evidence-based practice being used in the field of leadership development?

This is a question we set out to answer in a current research project for a leadership funder.

  • Were there leadership theories that conceived leadership as a relational, collective process?
  • Were there hypotheses being formed and tested in practice?
  • Was there evidence about the leadership process and practice needed to produce large scale change and population level results?
  • What research and evaluation approaches are appropriate for assessing a developmental, open system, like leadership development?

We learned a lot from doing this scan. A few insights include:

  • Achieving large-scale results (systems change, field impact, population level results, and community well-being) depends on building leadership relationships across sectors, communities, institutions, and social and economic divides (e.g., race, class, gender).
  • Focusing on getting desired results provides critical meaning and context for leadership in networks and communities of learning and practice to work in alignment.
  • Analyzing problems, identifying leverage points, taking action, and learning in real-time create a continual cycle of leadership learning and action that produces results in complex environments.

Our research led us to imagine some interesting possibilities for those of us in the leadership development field. What if we as a community of practice were to:

  • Develop research and evaluation frameworks that could guide the collection and organization of different kinds of evidence we are producing about how to achieve different purposes (e.g., the investment framwork)
  • Organize an EBP repository on our site or some other logical location to share evidence-based practices in an easy and accessible way for practitioners
  • Encourage investments in more practice-based research and provide training to practitioners on evidence-based appraoches
  • Facilitate collaboration between scholars and practitioners to identify and test hypotheses
  • Design and promote reward systems that produce accountability for results

How are you using evidence-based practice in your leadership work?

Image source: laogooli's Flickr Photostream