Companion Guide

Develop Your Theory of Leadership

Start leading through learning — map your leadership strategy.

This companion guide is designed to support you as you develop a customized Theory of Leadership—an approach that outlines your own role, as a leader, in designing, guiding, and participating in system learning and improvement.

We’re here to make this process simpler—but its significance should not be understated. In practice, by creating explicit Theories of Leadership, we are upending traditional approaches to education-based reform, which have narrowly focused on “fixing” the teacher and student behavior. Instead, by participating in this process, we’re flipping the script and pushing ourselves to lead as active learners.

Ultimately, how you design, organize, set the conditions for, and participate in learning across your system—while measuring your success in driving progress toward the outcomes you care about—will either obstruct or open the path toward learning and transformative change.

In this Companion Guide, we’ll be your guides as you craft your own Theory of Leadership.

We’ll walk you through a series of step-by-step activities that will help you:
  • map your stakeholders, 

  • identify collaborators, 

  • capture your current practices, 

  • draft a learning-driven Theory of Leadership, drawing on practices outlined in Drivers A–D, 

  • build an aligned measurement framework, and 

  • develop a narrative to help communicate your Theory of Leadership with others.

Note that it’s possible to articulate a Theory of Leadership as a team (e.g., an executive leadership team, a network hub) or as an individual (e.g., a team leader). Activities in the Companion Guide are designed for team-based development but may be easily adapted to accommodate an individual approach. Simply choose your adventure: Both approaches to Theory development can be fruitful, though they will differ in scope and scale.

Throughout the Companion Guide, you’ll find links to external templates on Miro. You can sign up for a free Miro account and make a copy of the Miro templates here.

Let’s get started!

Begin Phase 1

What is a Theory of Leadership?

A Theory of Leadership (“Theory”) is an articulation of the approach leaders use to support learning and improvement in their system, large or small.

A strong Theory describes leaders’ unique vision for their system and the steps they will take to get there. While most leaders operate with a tacit leadership approach in mind, articulating an explicit Theory allows leaders to capture, measure, and improve their own practice over time, as well as share their approach with others within or beyond their organization.

Your Theory of Leadership can be captured in a logic model that describes the causal relationship between leadership actions and short and long-term goals. By ensuring that your articulated actions and goals are explicit, and therefore measurable, you can treat your leadership approach as a hypothesis, testing and refining it over time; strengthening the relationship between your leadership and the behaviors, mindsets, and conditions in your system; and rising to meet new challenges and opportunities.