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  • Writer's pictureDr. Patrick E. Crawford

Scholar-Practitioner Leadership

Leadership Thoughts | Issue #148

What image comes to mind when you consider the term scholar-practitioner? Do you sense a tension between the “ivory tower” mentality often associated with academia and real-world practices? I have the privilege of being associated with the Saint Francis University doctoral program for Leadership and Innovation. The program has incorporated the scholar of practice mantra into coursework, research, and residency experiences. A synergy between scholarship and leadership practices is possible if you are willing to engage in both. In this issue of Leadership Thoughts, we will investigate why becoming a scholar-practitioner is desired and essential for successful leadership.

Scholars of Practice Defined

Defining the term scholar of practice or scholar-practitioner is not as simple as it sounds. On the surface, it might appear to be a scholar who is also a practitioner, like Brene Brown or John Kotter. Dr. Brown is a research professor who combines her academic expertise with practical applications. Dr. Kotter is a renowned leadership expert and professor at the Harvard Business School. His books and work are grounded in both academic research and practical experience. Often, a scholar-practitioner title is assigned to individuals who do research and put that research into practice. When I think about people like Brown and Kotter, I consider them academics that influenced practice.

Let’s look at two examples where individuals were scholar-practitioner leaders. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a Baptist minister and social activist who earned his Ph.D. in systematic theology from Boston University. Dr. Henry Kissinger was a diplomat and political scientist who was also a scholar on international relations and foreign policy; when we think of these individuals as outstanding leaders who studied their practice. These leaders used their academic studies to support their purpose and mission. I want to establish that becoming a scholar-practitioner leader is not limited to academics in ‘ivory towers” or social and political leaders but is available to everyone. According to my scholarly research, the following are several additional definitions.

A scholar-practitioner is a term used to describe an individual who combines scholarship with practice. This concept challenges the traditional division between these two realms that has long been prevalent in academia and intellectual culture. The scholar-practitioner values both knowledge and experience in studying their subject matter. They recognize the importance of experiential learning and how it can shape and inform more widely accepted forms of knowledge. Additionally, they regularly reflect on and evaluate the impact of their work (Kyle, 2021).

According to Moenette K.P. McClintock, the ideal of scholarly practice encompasses three important aspects. It is based on theory and research, incorporates practical knowledge, and is guided by personal values, dedication, and ethical behavior. Additionally, a scholar-practitioner reflects on their work and evaluates its impact (McClintock, 2003). Benham also emphasizes the problem-solving aspect of scholarly practice. He believes a scholar-practitioner must identify problems, analyze them thoroughly, and find effective solutions (Benham, 1996).

Characteristics of Scholar-Practitioner Leaders

There are several identifying characteristics of scholar-practitioner leaders. First and foremost, they are problem-solvers, specifically for self-improvement and the improvement of the organization. They are pushing forward, collaborating with others, and sharing their learning experiences. They actively exchange ideas with others inside and outside of their profession. These individuals are curious and willing to question their assumptions. They want to know the details, research, and examples of successes and failures associated with their profession and leadership.

As scholar-practitioner leaders, we are responsible for interpreting, creating, utilizing, evaluating, and reimagining theories within our practice. This requires a deep understanding of our chosen field and the ability to navigate challenges with agility. We utilize diverse concepts, theories, philosophies, and methodologies to craft our unique and scholarly approach. Our process also involves shaping our own identities while supporting the identity development of others. We must be able to adapt as we conduct research, analyze data, teach, learn, and grow personally.

Scholar-Practitioner Leaders and Self-Directed Learning

Scholar-practitioner leaders must embrace self-directed learning to cultivate essential skills such as self-confidence, autonomy, motivation, and lifelong learning. The scholar-practitioner model offers a chance for personal growth and renewal by engaging in scholarly work within a practical context.

Self-directed learning is an essential aspect of becoming a capable scholar-practitioner. It allows individuals to take charge of their learning and tailor it to their interests and needs. Scholar-practitioners must have the ability to adapt while conducting research, analyzing data, teaching, learning, and growing personally. Self-directed learning is a means to achieve this adaptability. It also enables leaders to establish their distinctive approach to their field of study, which is crucial for generating new knowledge and advancing the field.

By embracing self-directed learning, scholar-practitioner leaders can enhance their effectiveness in their work, build confidence in their abilities, and foster a deeper connection with their field of study. This valuable outlook enables them to navigate future challenges successfully and establish themselves as experts in their field.

Self-directed learning is a powerful mindset that enables scholar-practitioner leaders to take control of their learning and achieve their goals. By embracing this approach, they can develop the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in their field and make a meaningful contribution to society.

Scholar-Practitioner Leadership: Navigating Theory and Practice

Scholar-practitioner leadership is a model that combines knowledge, skills, and leadership abilities to enhance personal effectiveness and contribute to the success of organizations, communities, or schools. This approach emphasizes lifelong learning (scholarship), making a positive impact through work and social contributions (practice), and effective leadership skills for the scholar/practitioner/leader in all aspects of their academic, professional, and personal lives. Scholar-practitioner leaders embody qualities and practices that promote strong relationships, enabling them to build extensive personal and professional networks. Furthermore, they can confidently share their experience and research findings, ensuring their work reaches a broad audience and has a meaningful impact.

Finding a balance between theory and practice is crucial for scholar-practitioner leaders. The concept of scholar-practitioner leadership involves using scholarly inquiry to guide decision-making in professional practice, combining formal knowledge with practical experience. These leaders operate at the intersection of theory and practice. They understand that a mix of knowledge, skills, and leadership abilities is necessary to tackle problems and opportunities effectively. However, putting this into practice can be complicated and messy. Scholar-practitioner leaders navigate this complexity by uniting others around a common goal or vision, collaborating to solve problems, and taking advantage of new opportunities.

Ponder the following questions:

  1. What is your definition of a scholar-practitioner?

  2. What is the significance of the scholar-practitioner concept in leadership?

  3. Who are some examples of scholar-practitioner leaders?

  4. How can one become a scholar-practitioner?



Benham, M. (1996). The practitioner-scholars view of school change: A case-based approach to teaching and learning. 12(2), 119-135.

Kyle, J. (2021, March 11). What is a Scholar-Practitioner? Retrieved January 2024, from Embodied Philosophy:

McClintock, C. (2003). Scholar-Practitioner Model. Sage.


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