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    Act Like a Leader, Think like a Leader

    As you may be aware, we at Position Ignition are huge fans of Herminia Ibarra’s first book “Working Identity: Unconventional Strategies for Career Change” which offers an insightful, yet highly readable view on how mid-career professionals successfully navigate career change– based upon her research findings as Cora Chaired Professor of Leadership & Learning at INSEAD.

    Last week, I attended an event she gave in London promoting her latest book, “Act Like a Leader, Think like a Leader” – this time the product of many years of research of how aspiring leaders successfully acquire the skills to lead with greater impact.

    Herminia  is an engaging speaker - skills honed in the (often brutal) world of MBA class feedback scores. She held the room’s absolute attention for over an hour – with barely a glance at a smartphone amidst an audience of over 100.

    But she stresses that this was not always so - that in her early career she struggled to win the respect of her students and battled poor feedback. Indeed, from personal experience, I can vouch for how MBA students are notoriously unforgiving of young Organisational Behaviour faculty.  She explains that she only overcame this and began to ‘hold’ the lecture room by acting on some very unlikely advice – which initially felt distinctly uncomfortable.

    Thus she commences with a personal anecdote of how she overcame adversity and the lessons learned – the sort of approach which is standard stage fodder these days in the corporate world for an ‘authentic’ leader looking to engage and inspire.  Yet intriguingly, she seeks to challenge the way in which ‘authenticity’ is much touted as the prescription for effective and engaging leadership:  If we only ever aim to stay true to ourselves, we will remain within our comfort zones, and overlook opportunities to experiment – which are essential for growth and learning. 

    Thus to succeed as a leader (defined in the broadest possible sense) we will need to develop new habits and behaviours which may feel strange or uncomfortable at first – so she encourages us to ‘play’ with our sense of self to test out new ways of being.  She maintains that changing our mindset is challenging because we first need experience the new way of being. Thus the way to adopt the mindset of a leader is first to act: to take on new projects, make new connections, test new approaches. As we challenge ourselves, our patterns of thinking, doing and being will evolve as we learn from these new experiences.

    There is something that I found very appealing about this idea. It reminds us all that our futures are very much what we choose to make of them.  We are not limited by our ability to discover and expose our ‘true self’ - as the authenticity hypothesis might suggest. Instead we have the potential to evolve into more capable, skilled and better versions of ourselves if we are willing to open ourselves up to new experiences, new influences and new approaches.

    Definitely one for the Spring reading list...

    Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader by Hermina Ibarra (Harvard Business Review Press)

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