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How to act and think like a leader

Showing leadership skills is one of the traits business schools are looking for when deciding on applicants. Many MBA graduates end up in management positions or even start their own company. Herminia Ibarra, Professor of Organisational Behaviour at Insead and an expert on leadership, recommends to ‘ditch the conventional ‘think before doing’ logic and instead start acting like a leader in order to start thinking like a leader’.


Picture: © alphaspirit/ Fotolia

In an essay on Inseads’ Knowledge platform the professor advocates an inclusive leadership by unlocking diverse talent. She recommends leaders to get fresh, external perspectives by doing new and different things like plunging into new projects and activities, interacting with very different kinds of people, and experimenting with new ways of getting things done – and then to observe the results of these actions.

Such 'outsight' can be obtained from three critical sources:

 ■ New ways of doing your work (job)

 ■ New relationships (network)

 ■ New ways of connecting and engaging people 

To be successful as a leader it is important to create a shared strategic vision among functional peers so that manufacturing operations in a company are better aligned with organisational priorities for example.

The leader has to become a bridge between different departments in an organisation. The exchanges and interactions with a diverse array of current and potential stakeholders should be at the heart of a leader’s role according to Ibarra.  'As experienced leaders understand, lateral and vertical relationship with other functional and business unit managers are a critical lifeline for figuring out how our contributions fit into the overall picture and how to sell our ideas, learn about relevant trends and compete for resources,' the Insead professor argues. 'No matter what kind of organisation you work in, team leaders who scout ideas from outside the group, seek feedback from and coordinate with a range of outsiders, monitor the shifting winds within the organisation, and obtain support and resources from top managers outperform those who dedicate themselves solely to managing inside the team.'

The further someone advances in his or her career and moves into a bigger leadership role the more their role shifts from having good ideas to selling them to diverse stakeholders. This also involves leadership development and Herminia Ibarra recommends adapting a playful frame of mind to make these steps to higher management: 'When we adopt a playful attitude, we’re more open to a diverse, even divergent, set of possibilities.'

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