Herminia Ibarra, a speaker at this year’s AHRI National Convention, tells us about developing the next generation of leadership through “outsight”.
In her latest book Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader, Professor Herminia Ibarra focuses on how individuals can adjust their leadership styles to have a bigger impact. As an expert in leadership development, does she think we are experiencing a crisis in leadership? Certainly, there is a deficit of trust, she says. One of the reasons the “authenticity” of leaders has come into sharp focus is the lack of trust, whether in politics or business.
“People feel they can’t trust their leaders and, as a result, they yearn for times when people were more genuine – that is, less duplicitous.”
Despite the proliferation of leadership studies and practical courses, Ibarra feels that the quality of leadership isn’t improving, and that a different approach to training is required in order for it to be meaningful.
The reason for a lack of progress is “because training takes people out of their organisations for a short period of time, teaches them things and then throws them back in. Ideas only ever stick if they are rooted in an organisation-wide effort to bring about change. And that usually includes some kind of cultural change.”
Authenticity is a central theme for Ibarra when coaching senior-level executives who are aiming to move into more impactful and strategic roles. She finds that some participants are initially resistant to her methods due to an inflexible approach to authenticity.
“When change feels scary or daunting, there’s often a knee-jerk reaction of ‘I can’t do that; that’s not who I am’,” she says.
“But this is naively assuming that certain changes aren’t possible because it would go against the grain of who a person is, without necessarily taking into account that who they are today is quite different to who they’ve been in the past. The self is an ongoing process. You will stagnate if you don’t do anything differently – or you can evolve in ways you might never have imagined.”
Ibarra devised the principle of “outsight” to help develop effective leaders, which she defines as having a sense of purpose and ample self-awareness. Outsight is the fresh perspective that comes from trying something new, taking a different approach, or interacting with new people.
If there’s any tagline to the concept of outsight, it is: “What got you here won’t get you there”.
Ibarra encourages executives she coaches to ditch the conventional logic of “think before doing” because reflecting on the past prevents you from trying things differently in the future, she says.
“While introspection is useful, it anchors people in their old strengths, and that won’t necessarily help them move forward.”
Is this reversal of logic simply another way of saying, “Fake it till you make it?” Not at all, says Ibarra, because that requires knowing who it is you want to become and how you will go about achieving greater success. Most people, she argues, know neither.
“The only thing people know is that they want to move up or have a bigger impact. But they don’t have any clarity on how they might achieve this.”
Trial and error
The concept of outsight is therefore rooted in experimentation: it involves using trial and error to learn who it is you want to become, and how you will become that person.
“For example, someone might say to themselves, ‘I want a promotion, but I don’t want to have to be like those people in order to get it. Outsight is a process of learning that’s often full of ambivalence. It’s about experimenting until you learn it.”
She advocates experimenting with new ways of doing your job, expanding your peer network and being more playful with your sense of self. She gives an example of how to make your day-to-day work more strategic.
“You can’t get a strategic perspective by sitting around the office. You only get a big-picture view when you get involved in activities outside of your area of expertise, your organisation and even your industry. Sign up for a new project, taskforce, professional association or extracurricular professional activity. They will help you learn new skills and broaden your horizons.”
As technological disruption affects every facet of our working lives, Ibarra is convinced that working to build outsight is one way to help us remain relevant as individuals and help our organisations stay on their toes.
This article originally appeared in the April 2018 issue of HRM magazine.
Discover the future of HR with the world’s leading speakers including Lynda Gratton, Toby Walsh and Herminia Ibarra, at the AHRI National Convention and Exhibition at the Melbourne Convention and exhibition Centre from 28 to 30 August 2018. Early bird registration closes Thursday 31 May.