The Scholar-Practitioner-Leader: An Introduction

The Scholar-Practitioner-Leader: An Introduction

This is the first in a multi-part series. To view the other posts, visit the links below.


The concept of Scholar-Practitioner-Leader (SPL) is one which embodies a sort of leadership alchemy. This alchemy combines knowledge, skills, and leadership abilities and, more often than not, leads to greater personal effectiveness. It also contributes to a greater effectiveness within the organizations, communities or schools, or an integration of these groups – also referred to as a community of practice – which this type of individual serves.

The Whole is Greater than the Sum of Its Parts

The Scholar, Practitioner, Leader ModelSM (SPL) is the educational framework used by the School of Advanced Studies as part of its doctoral programs. However, this framework does not stop upon completion of a student’s degree.

As noted on the University of Phoenix program website, “This innovative and dynamic model focuses on supporting lifelong learning (scholarship), social and workplace contribution (practice), and the ability to exert positive influence (leadership) on the scholar/practitioner/leader at the intersections of their academic, professional and personal lives.” This integral approach incorporates the concepts of scholarship, practice, and leadership as practitioners seek to solve immediate and local problems and make a positive impact for the organizations, schools, and communities they serve.

By this definition, the scholar/practitioner/leader is able to connect theory, learning, and practice in the individual’s field. Separately, a scholar, a practitioner, and a leader can accomplish many things, but in combination, the whole is truly greater than the sum of its parts.

Defining the Scholar-Practitioner-Leader

The SPL possesses the personal qualities and practices that enhance the ability to build effective relationships and thus personal and professional networks. This ability to socialize their experience and research findings ensures the widest possible reach of their work, and ultimately increases its meaningful impact.

From the perspective of the SPL, leadership is more art than science. As an art, leadership is seen as an idea that would advance the potential and possibilities of the community of practice. This adventure of ideas is the playground for our SPL. It leads to an informed and practical response for addressing the immediate problems and opportunities apparent to the community of practice. The SPL understands that a recipe of knowledge, skills, and leadership abilities will determine how we go about solving problems or responding to opportunities. Successful efforts will ultimately advance the organization, school, and/or the community.

In theory, leadership is a simple concept. In practice, leadership is messy.  The SPL manages this complexity by forging a common purpose, objective, or vision aimed at solving the problem or seizing the opportunity at hand, and building relationships around these ever-emerging problems and opportunities. Addressing the complex and often irrational nature of human beings requires a level of emotional agility few are able to master, and there are no shortcuts to acquiring it. Success is all about consistent practice and grit, and that practice is something our SPL embraces with dedication.

SPLs act as transformative and enlivening forces within these sustainable systems and themselves transform from a thought-leader to a producer of change. The SPL mixes his or her knowledge, skills, and leadership abilities to create a regenerating flywheel of ideas, solutions, and support.

In upcoming posts, we will explore what it means to be a Scholar-Practitioner-Leader in several contexts, and further define the model as it applies to the School of Advanced Studies and University of Phoenix research. Check back in the coming weeks for more in this series.