Herminia Ibarra is ranked by Thinkers50 as one of the world’s top-ranked management thinkers- at number 8 in 2015, since you asked. Her interests are professional and leadership development, gender, and how we can adopt a DIY (do it yourself) approach to making a step up in our careers.
Very Short Biography
Herminia Ibarra was born in Cuba*, and moved to the United States as a child. She graduated from the University of Miami with a BA in Psychology. She was a teaching fellow at Yale from 1985-1989 and was awarded her masters in Organizational Behaviour, and then her PhD, in 1989.
From there she joined the faculty of Harvard Business School, where she remained until 2002, when she accepted a chair at INSEAD. She is currently Professor of Organisational Behaviour and The Cora Chaired Professor of Leadership and Learning.
In 2003, she wrote Working Identity: Unconventional Strategies for Reinventing Your Career. This is a book of case studies of how people made significant changes in their careers. While working on it, she came to realise that often people stay stuck in a job because they don’t know what to do next. Reflection and analysis fail to help them figure out what next. What makes the difference for many of her case studies is the impact of outside activities or initiatives with which they get involved, outside of the normal run of their work.
This led Ibarra to the ideas in her latest book, Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader, which we’ll discuss.
Reversing Common Wisdom
Conventional wisdom has it that we should think then act. But in studying career changers, Ibarra started to take an interest in managers who are increasingly expected to act as leaders, but who don’t get promotions or formal job moves that create the opportunity for this transition.
With changed expectations, but the same role, these managers must find their own way – a ‘Do It Yourself’ approach. Ibarra argues that they need to change what they do, who they connect with, and how they think of themselves. And the first step is to do things differently.
Ibarra has coined the term ‘outsight’. In contrast with insight, outsight is the external perspective we get when we take on fresh and new experiences. New and different activities change us, and Ibarra advocates experimentation and experience as the route to change: what I call ‘trial and learning’.
We can get this opportunity to be different and try different things from the side activities we engage in within and outside work. Many of the people she studied for her first book had career changes triggered by these kinds of projects, initiatives, and task force roles. By looking for these, a manager can try out new ways of acting – and then reflect on them.
These experiences provide opportunities for the three shifts Ibarra challenges managers to make:
- Redefine your role as being more strategic, as you shift from manager to leader
- Broaden your network of contacts, taking on more opportunities to connect across wider spans and with more influential people
- Evolve your personal style, trying out more ‘playful’ approaches that may redefine your sense of self (without challenging it)
This ‘act-first’ approach seems to me to be a positive one for making changes, and chimes nicely with Amy Cuddy’s injunction to ‘fake it ’til you become it’.
Ibarra in her own Words
If you are interested in the topic of career progression, try out these Pocketbooks
* I am going to ignore the date of birth given by Wikipedia – her CV says she graduated in 1982 (although this may be the date she started her undergraduate studies). If her Wikipedia birth date is correct, then she graduated at age 12 – or at the latest, 3 years later!