Wednesday, March 18, 2015

A New Book on Leadership

I read all the time. Whether it is articles on the web, the latest issue of Fast Company magazine or the Harvard Business Review, I am always on the hunt for new insights or perspectives to help me better understand the fascinating and complex world of leadership and organizational change. 

Over the decades, I have found that certain authors are good sources of new insights. For example, Stephen Covey, Tom Peters, and Ken Blanchard in the 80’s and 90’s always provided solid research and ideas. More recently, one can always count on Jim Collins, Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Patrick Lencioni, Margaret Wheatley, and Marcus Buckingham to present thought-provoking ideas and new perspectives.

However, over the last few years when reading the Harvard Business Review, a new author, Herminia Ibarra, has started appearing on my radar screen. Her research and ideas are intriguing and helpful. They have caused me to pause, reflect deeply, and rethink some things. Thus, I was delighted to see that she just published a new book  last month called Act Like A Leader, Think Like A Leader, Harvard Business Review Press, 2015. Now having read it twice, I think she offers some good, new ways of thinking about the world of leadership. 

The foundation of her new book can be summarized by the following quote by Richard Pascale: “Adults are more likely to act their way into a new way of thinking than to think their way into a new way of acting.” As she explains, “you can only learn what you need to know about your job and your self by doing it - not by just thinking about it…. we only increase self-knowledge in the process of making changes.” As she continues, “This cycle of acting like a leader and then thinking like a leader - of change from the outside in - creates what I call outsight.” 

In the book, she notes that “Contrary to public opinion, too much introspection anchors us in the past and amplifies our blinders, shielding us from discovering our leadership potential and leaving us unprepared for fundamental shifts in the situations around us.” Outsight comes from actions that revolve around redefining your job as a leader, redefining your network and redefining yourself. “As psychologists remind us, knowing what we should be doing and actually doing it are two very different things.”

Her case for a change in thinking how we approach leadership is solid and well thought through. Each chapter of the book contains excellent summaries of the material explored. For example, in the Chapter 1 Summary, she points out that “Outsight comes from a “tripod” of sources: new ways of doing your work (your job), new relationships (your network), and new ways of connecting to and engaging people (yourself)…. Sustainable change in your leadership capacity requires shifts on all three legs of the tripod.”

I was particularly impressed with her notion in Chapter 2 that effective leaders need to be a hub and/or a bridge. As she explains, leaders who are hubs do the following: set goals for the team, assign roles to their people, assign tasks, monitor progress toward goals, manage team member performance, conduct performance evaluations, hold meetings to coordinate work, and create good climate inside the team. On the other hand, leaders who are bridge builders do the following: align team goals with organizational priorities, funnel critical information and resources into the team to ensure progress toward goals, get the support of key allies outside the team, enhance the external visibility and reputation of the team, and give recognition for good performances and then place team members in great next assignments. Understanding when you are a hub and when you are a bridge builder is a good step in learning to be a better leader. 

I also was delighted to read about the role of operational, personal and strategic networks in Chapter 3 of this new book. “The first helps you manage current internal responsibilities, the second boosts personal development, and the third focuses on new business directions and the stakeholders you must get on board to pursue these directions.” I enjoyed how she framed up strategic networks as a one “made up of relationships that help you to envision the future, sell your ideas, and get the information and resources you need to exploit these ideas….A good strategic network gives you connective advantage: the ability to marshal information, support, or other resources from one of your networks to obtain results in another.” I completely agree with her when she further explained “You need operational, personal, and strategic networks to get things done, to develop personally and professionally, and to step up to leadership. Although most good managers have good operational networks, their personal networks are disconnected from their leadership work, and their strategic networks are nonexistent or underutilized.”

Overall, Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader is a good new addition to the lexicon of well written books about this subject. I enjoyed reading it, and recommend it to others. I also look forward to her on-going work in this area.

Geery Howe, M.A. Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer in Leadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational Change Morning Star Associates 319 - 643 - 2257

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