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The library of essays of Proakatemia

Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader

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Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader
Herminia Ibarra
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“Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader”
Herminia Ibarra

The author of the book Herminia Ibarra is a world-known professor lecturing in INSEAD school of business. She challenges the conventional concept of leadership. According to her approach of “external perception”, in order to change the mindset and learn how to think as a leader one needs to start acting accordingly. This book gives an action plan to achieve career growth on the basis of the principle of “learning by doing” and that was the reason for choosing this book. It was interesting to draw parallels between our teaching methods in Proakatemia and the author’s concept of career growth.

The book is kind of a step by step guide in a career planning in a large corporation for those who seek to make and expand success in the career path. In this book, Herminia Ibarra claims that some of the existing patterns of our perception should be broke down and replaced with something conceptually new. “The principle 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,” according to Ibarra. She states that traditionally before taking any steps in a career or even life people are tend to comprehend the situation, carry out a deep introspection and try to evaluate strong sides and possible limitations what is an incorrect way to act. The author insists that it is more beneficial to skip self-reflection and start acting. Only the process gives an opportunity to conduct a constructive self-inspection that allows identifying leadership skills, lacking skills that need to be improved or replaced.

The book encourages leaders to climb out of “the competency trap” and dedicate more time to important responsibilities. Trying something new transforms the way we think and then this changed mind state helps us to understand our leadership potential. This can be applied in the case when the decision to gain more authority or become a leader of a higher level is taking independently, but there is a lack of sufficient evidence of leadership skills availability. In other words, if there is a non-realized ambition to move forward which urge to be realized the transition to a new level of leadership should be taken. This transformation affects three areas of everyday life.

  • Redefining the job
  • Interaction with people
  • Leadership identity

One of the important subjects Herminia covers in the book is that in the case of applying to the new level of leadership the approach to work should be categorically reviewed. Usually, people perform well and love working processes when they are involved in the activity they have the expertise or it is a field of their interests, where the level of productivity is at its maximum. It means that we as humans tend to focus on our functional responsibilities, on what gives us the desired outcome and what seems right to us. However, in order to become a leader, it is crucial to change the focus from your straight job responsibilities or what brings you to result towards the business as a structure, work of the whole department. That means that for stepping up from an effective manager to a successful leader it is unavoidable to leave the comfort zone in order to incorporate into perception something new what might have been ignored due to the fact that it is convenient to provide good results in the familiar tasks. The strong leader has a broader and more strategic mindset, a clear vision of global changes and trends in the business field.

From here author goes to another vital skill that needs to be developed – foresight, because learning to see the big picture, forecast changes will automatically give the opportunity to offer the company those innovations and ways of development that are needed for progression and taking/holding a leading position in the industry in the future.

Furthermore, there is one more thing what differentiates a successful leader from a manager; when the last one is more interested and pays more attention to the work process and spends more time working inside own team; leader becomes a connecting link between the home department and higher-ups throughout the organization. Herminia points out that well-developed communication skills is one of the essentials in leadership, she addresses head-on many people’s belief that networking is “essentially insincere or manipulative”, and suggests to reconsider this attitude. Insufficient self-confidence and lack of understanding of the value that will be gained by widening the circle of contacts limits the way of thinking and imagination about career prospects. Ibarra shares a helpful framework for thinking about a network’s strategic advantage: A = B + C + D, where

  • Advantage: The extent to which your network helps to step up to leadership
  • Breadth: Strong relationships, diverse contacts
  • Connectivity: Capacity to bridge groups/people who would not otherwise connect
  • Dynamism: Connections that evolve as leadership evolves

After reading this book I reflected its content on our learning process in Proakatemia and realized that even though it endorses community and team learning, it also supports individuals in the personal development through team learning. I recognized many of the leadership skills mentioned in the book in team rules of my team and it proved me another time that I have done the right choice coming to Proakatemia.




Ibarra, H. (2015) Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader



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