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Fresh approaches for leadership success

Maxine-Laurie Marshall — April 2016
Conventional leadership journeys are deeply flawed, says INSEAD business school professor Herminia Ibarra — outstanding leaders need ‘outsight’ not insight.

Most senior managers like to think they’re leadership material. But Herminia Ibarra, a leading authority on business management, says professionals often approach the cultivation of leadership qualities in completely the wrong way.

In our exclusive video interview for I–CIO’s Big Thinker video series, Ibarra insists conventional approaches limit leadership progression. They encourage potential leaders to “think about the kind of person you are and the kind of leader you want to be. And, therefore, to think your way into a new way of being, to think your way into being that leader.”

The professor of leadership and organizational behaviour at France’s INSEAD business school, and visiting professor at London Business School, says that the introspection and self-reflection of traditional leadership development may help identify individual strengths and weaknesses but this way of thinking about job roles and personal attributes is exactly what’s keeping many managers from stepping up successfully. Traditional leadership training encourages a change in thinking, whereas, she argues, potential leaders should be more focused on changing how they act.
Outsight in

Ibarra calls the conventional approach to leadership development an ‘insight’ model. Her research and years spent teaching managers to move up to senior leadership roles has led her to develop what she regards as a more realistic model: ‘outsight.’

“Your current way of thinking about your job and yourself is exactly what’s keeping you from stepping up.”

As she explains: “‘Outsight’ simply means developing external perspective, a way of thinking in which you only gain by experiential learning, by trying things out, by doing, by being exposed to new situations and new people. Realistically, what occurs [in leadership progression] is that people start taking new and different steps. They experiment with different behaviors.”

Ibarra’s call for managers to change behaviors and act, as opposed to concentrating on self-reflection, is rooted in psychology. In her highly acclaimed book Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader, she says: “Aristotle observed that people become virtuous by acting virtuously: if you do good, you’ll be good. His thinking has been confirmed in a wealth of social psychology research showing that people change their minds by first changing their behavior.”

Ibarra makes the point that deep-seated ways of thinking are what are stopping executives from making the behavioral adjustments needed for true leadership. “Your current way of thinking about your job and yourself is exactly what’s keeping you from stepping up,” she concludes.

  • Photography: Harry Borden

First published
April 2016
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About: Herminia Ibarra
Herminia Ibarra is professor of organizational behavior, leadership and learning at INSEAD, and currently visiting professor at London Business School. Thinkers 50 named the author of ‘Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader’ among the top 10 most influential business gurus in the world.
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