On June 25, 2015, Sue hosted Herminia Ibarra, Professor of Leadership and Learning, the Chair of the Organizational Behavior department, and the founding director of “The Leadership Transition” executive education program at INSEAD. Herminia is the author of the new book, Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader and was named a Thinkers50 most influential business guru. Herminia helped us understand the common traps that get in the way of stepping up to bigger leadership positions. She explained how change really works when we are attempting to grow professionally, and how applying the “outsight” principle reshapes our image of our selves, our jobs and our potential.
“Until you can feel it in your bones, it’s very hard to have thinking drive your behavior.”
- The “outsight” principle means learning by going outside the norm. It’s an external perspective that you get from doing new things and experimenting, by interacting with new people, going outside your past experience, outside your usual network of contacts and getting a more external perspective to open your eyes to a different reality.
- Traditional leadership development methods tend to emphasize learning through introspection, which is the opposite of the outsight principle. Sue inquired about this juxtaposition. While there is a place for introspection in developing leaders, Herminia’s research showed that behavior that drives attitudes and thought processes as opposed to other way around, particularly when the end state is unclear. When transitioning from A to B, and B as the end state is known, it’s easier to plan the steps to get to B. But when the end state is unknown or murky, all the thinking in the world is theory and likely to not match reality. When transitioning to a leadership role for the first time, Herminia explains the only way to aspire to that goal in a way that’s motivating, is to get closer to it through experimentation. Only then will you have fresh material for reflection afterwards.
- To gain outsight, Herminia suggested three areas for aspiring leaders to create some experiments: redefining your job, extending your network away from the usual suspects, and being more playful with yourself. Getting started with experiments in these three areas, especially with job activities and network building, will help you gain positive momentum. The people you meet along the way make a huge difference because they become kindred spirits or people who can guide you or you can bounce ideas off of because they are going through something similar. The more time spent thinking about it and conceptualizing this concept, the slower the learnings will come. But those who take action even if they aren’t sure where they are going, or because it feels unnatural, will learn more quickly.
What we found most interesting:
As people try to step up to leadership, they sometimes experience the authenticity trap. Things that don’t feel comfortable for people tend to feel inauthentic. But Herminia explained authenticity can be a defense against learning and a defense against getting out of your comfort zone. Authenticity can be defined in a number of ways, but when people hide behind it they tend to mean, “being as I’ve always been.” Which is not great, because you can be authentic and change a lot. She says, “The way you actually become really authentic is by changing and adapting and by doing so, mean you remain true to yourself in an evolving way…we all want to be ourselves at work but we want to be ourselves in a way that takes into account growth and evolution.”
To learn more about Herminia’s experience, listen to the Wise Talk recording.