Act like a leader - Herminia Ibarra - INSEAD (2023)

“ACT LIKE A LEADER, THINK LIKE A LEADER” claims introspection anchors us in the past, impedes change and holds back careers

Middle East, Asia, Europe
10 February 2015

INSEAD, the leading international business school, today announced the publication of a new book written by Herminia Ibarra, an INSEAD professor ranked as one of the world’s top ten business thinkers. The book,ACT LIKE A LEADER, THINK LIKE A LEADER, argues that you have to act your way into a new type of leadership thinking, instead of thinking your way into it.

Many people believe that introspection and self-reflection are the holy grail of leadership development. But research shows, that this process is limited. THINK LIKE A LEADER, ACT LIKE A LEADER shows why we can only increase our self-knowledge in the process of making changes. Contrary to popular opinion, “insight-out” thinking, or introspection, can actually impede change by anchoring people in their habitual patterns of thought and action. Instead, we need to develop what Ibarra calls ‘outsight,’ the fresh, external perspective you can only get by plunging into new projects and activities, interacting with different kinds of people, and experimenting with unfamiliar ways of getting things done.

The only way to think like a leader is to first act like one, Herminia points out in her book. New ways of doing your job on a daily basis will, in turn, slowly change the way you think about your work and yourself, allowing you to let go of outdated habits and sources of self-esteem, so you can expand your capacity to be a leader. The more you experiment with acting like a leader, the more you and others will perceive you as one. That’s the road to leadership.

Ibarra’s findings are illuminated with practical lessons from inspiring leaders of all stripes:

  • From writerMichael Lewiswe learn that it’s better to be a chameleon than a “true-to-selfer”
  • Former Ogilvy & Mather CEOCharlotte Beersadvises leaders to remember that it’s who they are and not their analysis that persuades and inspires best
  • Margaret Thatcherembodied her personal experience to crystallize a galvanizing political message
  • Bruce Leelived by the mantra “Be Like Water” to adapt to new situations and grow from them
  • AndSheryl Sandberg’s public recognition as a leader came mostly from accomplishments outside of her day job as COO of Facebook such as her TED talk and bestselling book.

Examples like these demonstrate that who you are as a leader is not just about formative experiences in your past but about the possibilities you invent for yourself in the future. For anyone who wants to advance their career or be the leader their organisation expects them to be, Ibarra’s book tells it like it really is and will give you a new clarity of self that is informed by your direct leadership experience. By emphasizing experimentation over introspection,ACT LIKE A LEADER, THINK LIKE A LEADER, offers a practical guide for people who want to increase their impact and for organisations looking to grow their leadership pipeline.

About the author:

Herminia Ibarra is the Cora Chaired Professor of Leadership and Learning, and Professor of Organisational Behaviour at INSEAD and the author of Working Identity: Unconventional Strategies for Reinventing Your Career. Prior to joining INSEAD, she served on the Harvard Business School faculty for thirteen years. Ibarra ranks #9 among the Thinkers50 list of the most influential business gurus in the world and is on HR Magazine’s list of the top 20 most influential international thinkers.

Ibarra speaks regularly at global business events such as the World Economic Forum’s Davos meetings, the Global Drucker Forum, the OECD Forum, and Handelsblatt's Pathfinder event. She has served on the juries of the Financial Times/McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award, the CNBC First 25 List, and the Fortune/AON Hewitt Best Companies for Leaders.

She is the author of numerous articles in theHarvard Business Review, theWall Street Journal,Financial Times, and theNew York Timesand she has appeared on CNBC.

This book is based on The Leadership Transition, an executive programme at INSEAD that Ibarra directs and created for managers moving into broader leadership roles.
Ibarra received her M.A. and Ph.D. from Yale University, where she was a National Science Fellow. A native of Cuba, Ibarra grew up in Miami, now lives in Paris, and will tour the U.S., Canada and the U.K this winter.

About the book:

By Herminia Ibarra
Harvard Business Review Press
Publication date: February 10, 2015
$30 Hardcover Original; 200 pages; ISBN: 978-1422184127

Five Tips from ACT LIKE A LEADER, THINK LIKE A LEADER by Herminia Ibarra:

• Be more playful with your own identity to stretch beyond your current self-concept.
• Let go of performance goals that can diminish how much we’re willing to risk in the service of learning.
• Don’t stick to your story. Try different versions, narrate different defining moments, and keep editing as you would your CV.
• Allocate less time to what you do best to devote more time to learning other things that are also important.
• Create and use networks to tap new ideas, connect to people in different worlds, and access radically different perspectives.


“Herminia Ibarra’s insightful new book is an inspirational read for everyone who has a passion for leading and developing people. In times of rapid change, her profound research and hands-on approach of ‘transforming by doing’ is broadening horizons.” —Joe Kaeser, CEO, Siemens AG

“In this provocative new book, Herminia Ibarra takes into account the high-velocity, shape-shifting context that we all live in and offers an action-oriented, practical playbook on leadership, identity, and change. It is a must-read for the contemporary leader.” —Susan P. Peters, Senior Vice President, Human Resources, GE

“Herminia Ibarra has created a valuable and successful model for helping forward-thinking professionals move up the corporate ladder.” — Marshall Goldsmith, author of New York Times and global best seller What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

“Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader provides insightful and practical advice about how to do the hardest thing of all—change ourselves.” — Linda A. Hill, Wallace Brett Donham Professor of Business Administration, Harvard Business School; coauthor of Being the Boss: The 3 Imperatives for Becoming a Great Leader

“In order to be a better leader, you need to ‘act first, then think.’ Read this book to find out what a most original thinker, Herminia Ibarra, has in mind.” — Charlotte Beers, former CEO, Ogilvy & Mather; former Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, US Department of State

“This intelligent and thought-provoking book is for those who really want to make a difference—those willing to act their way into leadership situations they might previously have thought themselves out of.” — Paul Polman, CEO, Unilever

“Herminia Ibarra clears the myths about leadership with her fresh, profound, yet down-to-earth book about the importance of action over introspection. She’s the perfect coach, showing aspiring leaders how to get over themselves and see the world around them. Her stories and tools make this a must-read for blossoming as a leader.” —Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Harvard Business School Professor; best-selling author of Confidence and SuperCorp

As one of the world’s leading and largest graduate business schools, INSEAD brings together people, cultures and ideas to develop responsible leaders who transform business and society. Our research, teaching and partnerships reflect this global perspective and cultural diversity.

With locations in Europe (France), Asia (Singapore), the Middle East (Abu Dhabi), and now North America (San Francisco), INSEAD's business education and research spans four regions. Our 165renowned Faculty members from 42countries inspire more than 1,500 degree participants annually in our Master in Management,MBA, Global Executive MBA, Specialised Master’s degrees (Executive Master in Finance and Executive Master in Change) and PhD programmes. In addition, more than 11,000 executives participate in INSEAD Executive Education programmes each year.

INSEAD continues to conduct cutting-edge research and innovate across all our programmes. We provide business leaders with the knowledge and awareness to operate anywhere. Our core values drive academic excellence and serve the global community as The Business School for the World.

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