Herminia Ibarra – Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader

Book Reviewed by Diane Byington, Ph. D.

Herminia Ibarra is the director of a prestigious executive leadership program, and her new book is designed to help managers at all levels step up to leadership. Making small but crucial changes in your job, your networks, and yourself can lead to enhanced leadership opportunities. She bases the book on the “outsight” principle, which holds that the only way to think like a leader is to first act: to plunge yourself into new projects and activities, interact with very different kinds of people, and experiment with unfamiliar ways of getting things done. In other words, change happens from the outside, rather than from the inside out.

Managers’ jobs are not the same today as they were even a few years ago. Ibarra’s data indicate numerous changes in management responsibilities, including the type of stakeholders to be managed, an increase in cross-functional accountability, and an increase in the multinational scope of many jobs. In spite of expanded responsibilities, many managers focus on their internal working environment rather than visioning for the future or understanding the external environment. Her data show that the biggest gaps between self scores and observer scores in a 360 feedback assessment are in the areas of Visioning and Empowering. Clearly, managers at all levels need to rethink their job descriptions.

The book includes chapters on redefining your job, networking, being more playful with your authentic self, and managing the stepping-up process. Although I appreciated all the chapters, the one that spoke to me the most was the chapter on networking. Ibarra describes three different kinds of networks that can play a vital role in helping you step up to leadership.
Operational networks include the people on whom you depend on in order to get your work done. These include your direct reports, your superiors, people in other units, and key outsiders. A good operational network gives you reliability, but it’s unlikely to deliver value beyond helping you accomplish functional objectives and assigned tasks. The network won’t help you ask the strategic and future-focused question “What should we be doing instead?”

Most people also have personal networks of varying diversity and breadth. These include friends, family, and trusted advisers. A good personal network gives you kindred spirits, and it can provide you with important referrals. But it also absorbs a significant amount of time and energy.

Your strategic network consists of relationships that help you envision the future, sell your ideas, and get the information and resources you need to exploit these ideas. By definition, a strategic network has to include people and groups that can help you compete in the future. A good strategic network gives you connective advantage: the ability to marshal information, support, or other resources from one of your networks to obtain results in another.

Many people lag in creating a strategic network, so Ibarra presents a number of practical and helpful suggestions. For example, starting a LinkedIn or Facebook group around a particular topic will make you the connector for this group of people. Or you might take advantage of your next business trip to connect with someone you’ve lost track with, and then have this person help you connect with someone new.

The people you hang out with shape who you are and who you become. Ibarra discusses how important it is to connect with people who embody the change you want to develop. “The fastest way to change yourself is to spend time with people who are already the way you want to be.”

Overall, the book is well-written and thought-provoking, and it’s filled with research-based principles, practical steps for increasing your sphere of influence, and interesting case studies. Experienced leaders may be familiar with much of the content, but it will be extremely useful for new managers, those looking to move into leadership positions, or managers whose careers have stalled.