Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader

Summary Written by Vanessa Chase
"You can only learn what you need to know about your job and yourself by doing it – not just by thinking about it."

- Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader, page 1

The Big Idea

Leadership is about an action-oriented mindset

"Today more than ever, major transitions do not come neatly labeled with a new job title or a formal move."- Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader, page 7

In my own career, I can think of many times where I felt that I needed to learn more in order to lead. But the truth is that we can lead while we are learning! We don’t need to spend years in school, hours at seminars or days reading books. The best way to be a leader is to start acting like one. Ibarra suggests that as we act more like a leader, we will also begin to attract a wider network that can provide us with the resources to learn and grow as leaders. It’s something of an interesting paradox compared to how leadership is traditionally thought of. But it is the 21st century and in the business worl d we are rethinking many of our traditional ways of doing things. It makes sense that leadership would be the same.

“No matter how long you have been doing your current job and how far you might be from a next formal role or assignment, this do-it-yourself environment means that today, more than ever, what made you successful so far can easily keep you from succeeding in the future”. The concept of the business world becoming more DIY seems reminiscent of startup culture, where initiative is a must. Ibarra’s point is that if we want to advance and be leaders, not only do we need to be open to doing things differently, we need to take initiative.

Insight #1

Redefine your job description

"Sports coaches tell us that amateur golfers spend too much time practicing their best swings, at the expense of the aspects of their game that need more work."- Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader, page 29

Think about what’s on your plate on an average day. Chances are the majority of it is answering emails, participating in conference calls, and attending meetings. Given how much of this routine activity can take over our schedules, it’s little surprise that we don’t have time for the strategic activities that we know we should be doing. Ibarra points out that the difference between management and leadership lie in their definitions. Management requires us to work towards set goals, follow processes and procedures, and so on. Yet, by its very nature leadership calls on us to work outside the lines to create change. In this sense, it is important to bring in elements of leadership to our job descriptions.

Ibarra suggests understanding our job as a platform for learning and doing other things. She suggests five things that we can all do to begin creating and expanding our platforms:

  • Develop your situation sensors
  • Get involved in projects outside your area
  • Participate in extracurricular activities
  • Communicate your personal why
  • Create slack in your schedule

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Insight #2

Be your authentic self

"When we are working at improving our game, our authentic sense of self is a compass. It helps us navigate choices and work toward our goals. But when we are looking to change our game, our authenticity is an anchor that easily keeps us from sailing forth."- Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader, page 117

Ibarra shares a story about her early days of teaching MBA students at Harvard, when she was struggling to be an effective teacher and facilitator. She realized the problem was that she was over-thinking everything, which caused her to be unable to find a leadership style that resonated. The advice here is that sometimes we have to get out of our usual patterns in order to find our authentic selves.

Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader is packed with practical advice for professionals no matter where they are at in their careers.

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Herminia Ibarra

Herminia Ibarra is the Cora Chaired Professor of Leadership and Learning, and Professor of Organizational Behavior at INSEAD. Prior to joining INSEAD she served on the Harvard Business School faculty for thirteen years. She is a member of the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Councils, a judge for the Financial Times and McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award, and Chairs the Visiting Committee of the Harvard Business School. Thinkers 50 ranked Ibarra #9 among the most influential business gurus in the world.

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