In Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader, Herminia Ibarra, an expert on professional leadership and development and a renowned professor at INSEAD, turns the usual “think first and then act” philosophy on its head by arguing that doing these three things will help you learn through action and will increase what she calls your outsight—the valuable external perspective you gain from direct experiences and experimentation.
As opposed to insight, outsight will then help change the way you think as a leader: about what kind of work is important; how you should invest your time; why and which relationships matter in informing and supporting your leadership; and, ultimately, who you want to become.
No matter what you are doing today, chances are that you are facing some kind of do-it yourself transition. That means you are not only responsible for your own development (as we all are) but also need to know when it’s time to start stepping up to leadership even if there’s no new assignment on the horizon.
If you don’t create new opportunities even within the confines of your current job, the next assignment, promotion, or career stage may never come your way.
Where do you begin?
The only way to become a leader is to act like one.
Action–changing how you do your job, how you build and use your network, and how you express yourself–gives you outsight, the fresh, external perspective you need to understand more deeply what is involved in the work of leadership and to motivate yourself to do it.
Outsight holds the power to reshape your image of who you are, what you can do, and what is worth doing–it will change the way you think. You’ll remake yourself as you grow and the world changes.
Doing before thinking
Everyone around you will tell you that to be a better leader, you need to self-reflect, introspect, know what you want, increase self-awareness.
All that is well and good, but it will only help you later, when you have some new experiences to reflect on. Otherwise, all your material for reflection is the outdated past. Insight is an outcome, not an input.
Knowing the kind of leader you’d like to become is not the starting point on your development journey, but rather the result of increasing your outsight. You must reverse the conventional ‘thinking before doing’ logic to successfully step up.
The transition is built from small changes, is less than linear, and is distinctly uncomfortable
The process is full of complications, false starts, setbacks, and unanticipated turns, but the mess of it all sets the stage for more profound intenal changes. At some point, we have to start bringing the outsight back in, connecting the dots among our new leadership experiences to relfect on what they mean for us, our work, and career.
We start by doing, we reflect on our experience, and we rethink ourselves
New ways of acting not only change how we think–our perspective on what is important and worth doing–but also change who we become.
Whether we decide to take the leap to a new company or a different career or conclude that it’s better to stay on the current path, all of us struggle with crafting a work role in which we feel both part of something larger (the organization, the work) and free enough to be ourselves.
Through reflection on our new experiences, we can better know and pursue our own aims–what the Irish philosopher and author Charles Handy called creating ‘a life of our own.’