21 Sep 2020 16:00 IST

Act like a leader till you become one

This is accomplished when one achieves mindset change through behaviour change rather than vice-versa

Leadership development has become a cottage industry worth billions of dollars globally. And for a good reason. There is enough research to substantiate that leadership matters. Good leaders deliver magnificent results to their organisations — for-profit or not-for-profit and, during both good and challenging times. In their drive to become an academy for leaders, many well-known organisations have invested in building a robust leadership factory. General Electric (GE), for many years now, has been a net exporter of leadership talent. So are IBM and Procter & Gamble. They have given more leaders to the industry than they have hired.

However, there is a new and emerging insight around building future leaders. Traditional leadership efforts are focused on changing the way you think, often encouraging one to think ‘who you are’ and ‘who you want to become.’ This introspection is, of course, necessary. This is often advocated as the holy grail of leadership development. However, there is another side to the task of leadership development. This has got to do with the realisation that the current way of thinking about ourselves and our jobs, is what is perhaps keeping us from stepping up to the future leadership role.

Aristotle made a subtle observation that people become virtuous by acting virtuously. When we do good things, we become good. This has also led to many studies and experiments in the field of social psychology that when people change their behaviours, their mindset changes. This is contrary to the widely held belief that behaviour change follows the mindset change. In other words, when it comes to change, it happens from outside-in, rather than from inside-out!

Paradox of change

Dr Herminia Ibarra of London Business School calls this the “Outsight Principle.”









Dr Ibarra emphasises that, “No one pigeon holes us better than we ourselves do. The paradox of change is that the only way to alter the way we think is by doing the very things our habitual thinking keeps us from doing.” Becoming a leader with “outsight” requires paying attention to three things:

Redefining your job

Redefining your network

Redefining yourself

None of the above comes easy! As Stanford Professor Jeffrey Pfeffer observed, knowing is not necessarily the same as doing. There is usually so much of what he calls as the “knowing-doing gap.” Redefining our job requires moving away from the comfort and urgency of our old daily routine. Beginning to focus on more strategic concerns as opposed to daily routines, even as we perform them, becomes critical.

Redefining your job

As we set out to redefine our jobs, paying attention — particularly to the following will help us become better leaders, as recommended by Dr Ibarra.

Bridging across diverse people and groups

Envisioning new possibilities

Engaging people in the change process; and

Embodying the change

Redefining your network

Networking is the tool for identifying new strategic opportunities and attracting the best people to executing these opportunities. The quote, attributed to many different people, is worth mentioning here: Your network is your net worth!

Networking becomes a leadership tool when leaders use to sense trends and see opportunities, work collaboratively across boundaries to create more value, avoid group think, and obtain career opportunities.

Very often, we ignore strategic networking because we think networking is not real work or you feel it is inauthentic because it is using people. Others do not pay attention to networking because of the belief that relationships should form spontaneously. All there are misconceptions — to be reviewed and revised.

Redefining yourself

There is a mistaken notion around redefining oneself. The oft-heard argument is “I would like to be an authentic leader; so why should I change and act differently?” This requires a bit of clarification. Acting as a leader and demonstrating the behaviours that you currently may not possess is not being inauthentic. All coaching initiatives encourage leaders to practice behaviours that are different and deliver greater effectiveness.

I was coaching a senior leader whose development area happened to be “becoming more extroverted and more emotionally intelligent.” On receiving this feedback, the coachee-leader quipped, “I am introvert by nature; and behaving any differently would be perceived as inauthentic.” I had to coach this leader out of this interpretation of “authenticity” and help him understand that trying to be socially aware and building relationship skills is anything but inauthentic. And, this can help him become more effective in his role as a leader. I had to also tell him that, this is not about a “personality make-over” but “trying out behaviours that are more relevant to his role and its effectiveness.” Eventually, he agreed and succeeded.

In a nutshell, our efforts to become more effective leaders is more comfortably accomplished when we achieve the mind-set change through behaviour-change rather than vice-versa. This is perhaps the most revealing and empowering insight into becoming leaders.