In her book ‘Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader’, Herminia Ibarra gives very practical advice about the small but impactful changes managers and executives at all levels can make to position themselves for leadership and increase their impact across their organisations.
Her starting principle is that there is a fallacy to the belief that we change from the inside out. Her research focuses on the development of a leader’s identity – how people come to see and define themselves as leaders. Her findings show that people become leaders by doing leadership work. ‘The only way to think like a leader is to first act: to plunge yourself into new projects and activities, interact with very different kinds of people, and experiment with unfamiliar ways of getting things done. New experiences not only change how you think – your perspective on what is important and worth doing – but also change who you become.’ She describes this as the outsight principle: becoming a leader, from the outside in. And she says outsight can only be gained from action.
The book is structured around the following three key sources of outsight:
- Redefining your job in order to make more strategic contributions
- Diversifying your network so that you connect to, and learn from, a bigger range of stakeholders
- Becoming more playful with your self-concept, allowing your familiar leadership style to evolve.
In each chapter, she draws on her experiences as a professor of Leadership Transition at INSEAD, and uses compelling examples from classroom discussions and student experiences to address the very real challenges that exist in making these kinds of shifts. Things like finding time, identifying what strategic looks like, the power of developing your stories, overcoming the resistance to networking, and shifting identity without giving up authenticity.
I found the chapter on identity ‘Be More Playful with Your Self’ both enlightening and refreshing. It is not uncommon to hear from new leaders that they feel like an imposter when stepping into a new leadership role. Often they put themselves under pressure to define and commit quickly to how they now need to be. In this chapter, Ibarra encourages new leaders to take a more light-hearted approach – observing a range of role models to create their own collage of what they can learn and try out – experimenting with new behaviours and playing around a bit with their sense of who they are rather than ‘working’ on it. She says while most new behaviours might feel unnatural in the beginning, trying them out can help to figure out what works and what doesn’t – and a more light-hearted approach allows new leaders to take the time to refine an evolving version of themselves until it feels effective and authentic.
This book is written in a practical ‘how to’ style with sidebars containing useful models, worksheets and engaging examples and with helpful summaries at the end of each chapter. In addition to providing much good food for thought, this style also makes it useful as a reference tool for the many common challenges it addresses around making the transition from ‘doer’ to leader.
Karen Falcocchio is an Executive Coach with the Executive Coaching Consultancy, and can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the October 2016 issue: