In 2015, Thinkers50, producer of the world’s most prestigious ranking of management thinkers, ranked Herminia Ibarra number eight among the most influential business thinkers in the world, and it was with the presence of an expert in management thinking that she took the stage at WOBI’s most recent World Business Forum in New York City.
A native of Cuba, Ibarra received her M.A. and Ph.D. from Yale University before serving on the Harvard Business School faculty for 13 years. Today, she is the Cora Chaired Professor of Leadership and Learning and Professor of Organizational Behavior at INSEAD where her work focuses on professional and leadership development. Her first book, Working Identity, documented how people reinvent themselves at work and offered an alternative view of careers and career advice. More recently, she has looked at leadership transition and identifying the most successful CEOs. Her latest book, Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader, is based on her flagship executive education program at INSEAD, the book offers a practical guide on how to change when you also need to lead.
She asked attendees to consider a time when they were asked to do something very different, to take on a greater role – not simply do what they were accustomed to doing faster or with greater volume. “It’s a common experience, so I wanted to understand it better when it comes to stepping up to bigger leadership roles,” she said. The common saying “What got you here won’t get you there” is very true because we tend to fall into the common trap of doing what we know and what has always worked for us. Ibarra said, “When it comes to making leadership transitions, at any level, they usually involve shifting from leading, influencing, persuading, inspiring on the basis of your specialty expertise, what you know, to leading, influencing, persuading, inspiring on the basis of your business acumen, your strategic perspective, as well as your soft skills, the people skills.” The question that fascinates Ibarra is avoiding the “What got you here won’t get you there” manner of thinking.
The challenges of leading as the pace of change increases, how to avoid getting stuck in outdated mindsets and modes of operating is an obstacle all leaders face as they progress in their careers. Analyzing strengths and weaknesses and being introspective is not the way to make such a change. According to Ibarra, one must act one’s way into a new way about thinking about the job and one’s self. Ibarra says introspection is important but not helpful when looking to make a transition into unfamiliar waters. Instead it is necessary to increase what she calls the “Outsight – the fresh, external perspective you get from doing new and different things with new and different people.” This Outsight allows for the development of perspective necessary to adapt to a new situation, a perspective you could not find within yourself because you have not yet had the experiences required to develop it.
Typically, the stretch assignment, being forced out of your comfort zone, is how outsight has been developed. “These days, as organizations delayer, streamline and consolidate there are fewer big promotions around, but people’s jobs are just getting bigger and bigger. More things are getting thrown at you. People leave and they are not replaced. You get the stretch of their job on top of your job. But you don’t have the benefit of that neon sign of a new title saying ‘be careful, it’s time to shift.’” When in this position, people do not know if they need to make a shift in a few months or if they are behind and should have shifted a month ago. They are just coping with adding responsibilities.
She has found three shifts that help with the development of Outsight.
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