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The Leader As An Interventionist

Sometimes, as leaders, we are called upon to be interventionists. In his Intervention Theory and Method, Argyris asserts thatan interventionist has three primary tasks: to generate validinformation, to foster free choice, and to achieve internalcommitment. Accomplishing these necessitates an understanding that people have mental maps with regard to how to act in situations. This involves the way they plan, implement and review their actions. His assertion is that it is these maps that guide people’s actions rather than the theories they espouse. Argyris suggest that two theories of action are involved. He makes a distinction between those theories that are implicit in what we do as practitioners, and those on which we call to speak of our actions to others. The former can be described as theories-in-use. They govern actual behavior and tend to be unspoken structures. The words we use to convey what we do can then be called espoused theory. When someone is asked how he would behave under certain circumstances, the answer he usually gives is his espoused theory of action for that situation. This is the theory of action to which he gives allegiance, and which, upon request, he communicates to others. However, the theory that actually governs his actions is his theory-in-use. Making this distinction allows us as interventionists to better anticipate behavior and reaction to change.


Argyris, C. (1980). Inner Contradictions of Rigorous Research. San Diego CA: Academic Press.

Argyris, C. (1994). Knowledge for Action. San Francisco CA: Jossey-Bass.

Argyris, C., & Schön, D. (1978) Organizational learning: A theory of action perspective, Reading, Mass: Addison Wesley