Professor Herminia Ibarra (INSEAD).

 

Peter Cheese introduced Herminia as one of the most influential leadership thinkers . Herminia mentioned her new book – Act like a leader, think like a leader – to avoid the ‘what got you here, won’t get you there’ trap. (Often people have a deep expertise that gets them promoted to a leader, and than have to quickly develop a whole new skill-set. The thinking that got them to a leadership position isn’t the same thinking that will help them succeed.)

Herminia shared a story from her early academic career when she really struggled, and was given loads of friendly feedback including ‘just be yourself’. She then received some very direct (and honest) feedback that suggested the challenge wasn’t an academic/content problem, but was actually a power-play for dominance in the lecture theatre. Herminia talked about the need to ‘mark your territory’ in the lecture theatre, and is illustrating it for us as she wanders around all four corners of this auditorium, Herminia said that it wasn’t what she wanted to hear, and she would have much rather worked harder to prepare better content. However, making the time to get closer to the students and get to know them really pushed Hermiana out of her comfort zone, but had a massive positive effect (over time). Traditional advice is that we need to think differently and then we will act differently. For deeply ingrained behaviours, this doesn’t work and we need to act differently (in a way that takes us out of our comfort zone) and this will ultimately lead to us thinking differently.

 

There are 3 shifts in leadership transitions:

Redefine your job so that you make the right mix of operational and strategic contributions. How do you spend your time? How much is focused on strategy? How much on doing? How much on cheer-leading and coaching? How much on developing people? Most executives spend the majority of their time doing when they actually want to be spending time on strategy and on coaching and developing people. We sometimes fall into competency traps of doing more of what we love, so we do more of it and we get to the stage where we are doing the wrong things well – but it feels too costly to change. We can take one of two different management styles – we can be a hub (where we are at the centre of everything) or we can be a bridge (where our role is to be a connector, to help with flows of information and resources and connections). Teams that have bridge-type leaders have better outcomes. To redefine our job we need to stay alert and tuned in to our environment, get involved in projects outside our main areas of responsibilities.

 

Network across and out – most people say that their network is crucial, but then don’t have a network that is a good as they want it to be. We need: Breadth, Connectivity, and Dynamism. As human beings, we are narcissistic and we are drawn to people like us. We are birds of a feather. The two most dominant components of chemistry in a professional relationship are similarity and frequent contact. Because we are lazy, we can end up not having as strong as a relationship as we could have if we made the effort to connect more frequently. We should also make the effort to really connect with people outside of our speciality. We can find strength in our weak ties; the people in our immediate network are the ones who are most similar to us and so the new ideas and connections aren’t going to come from our immediate circle. However, the power can come from the connections of our connections. People who are on Twitter can be the most creative (an EMC study, I think?) especially those who have a broad network which isn’t always based on reciprocal agreements and those who follow plenty of people who don’t follow them back). To help people be great leaders, we need to help them build broader, deeper relationships.

 

Be more playful with your sense of self – we hold up authenticity as the gold standard, but people often feel inauthentic during leadership transitions. We often define being authentic as being as we have been, but it could actually mean being as we are to become. Sometimes we confuse authenticity with sincerity, just expecting people to say everything. Sometimes, we confuse authenticity with integrity which is a challenge as that is focused on integrity with values, and our values can change over time and can exist for many different reasons for different roles that we hold. Are we being true to our self or are we being more like a chameleon where we adapt to the situation (situational leadership, maybe?). We should be more playful – find role models and steal liken artist, experiment outside our ‘content zone’, set specific learning goals, and don’t feel obliged to ‘stick to our story’. We need to free up some head-room to change our story!

 

To think like a leader, we first need to act like a leader by redefining our job, networking more broadly, and not (just) being ourselves.

 

 

(This was live-blogged during a session at the CIPD Annual Conference & Exhibition – #cipd15 – I’ve tried to capture a faithful summary of the highlights for me but my own bias, views – and the odd typo – might well creep in.)