Want to be a leader? You'll have to walk the walk before you talk the talk.

That's the claim of Herminia Ibarra, a professor of leadership at the INSEAD School of Business. According to her, before you can change your career trajectory with a leadership role, you must start by acting like a leader before you think like one. It may sound backwards to some people, but Herminia's reasoning makes sense: It's impossible to think like a leader if you aren't one. Leaders categorize things and think differently, but you won't know how to deal with that until you've acted like a leader to see what the role entails.

Leaders are vital at all levels of an organization. While the CEO stands as the ultimate leader of the company, leaders at different levels help convey the company's grand vision and motivate teams or departments to meet their goals. If you want to become a leader, you must figure out what to change and why to change to make you successful in the future. According to Herminia, there are three main areas where employees who wish to be leaders need to change their thinking:

  • Redefine your job. Make your position more strategic and less operational. Instead of following through on the same reports every day, branch out and try something new that could help your department. Instead of delivering for other people, be proactive and consider what direction to take yourself in. This doesn't mean you should go rogue, but rather that you should begin to take more initiative and slowly act like a leader of your own work.
  • Broaden your network. Leaders are big thinkers, but many employees often get in the trap of networking and interfacing solely with people in their same department. To get a broader view of the industry and the world around you, reach out to other people, even those outside your organization, and look at the world around you. Getting a bigger perspective can lead to having more strategic ideas.
  • Change yourself. Many people have the tendency to pigeonhole and count themselves out. If you've always been in a certain role or believe you can't perform a job function, you are not likely to try something new. Be playful, branch out, and allow yourself to evolve with new experiences.

Turning into a leader doesn't happen overnight. It takes time and strategy to develop leadership skills and put them into practice. One of the best things a person can do to become a leader is to gain "outsight," or to push themselves into new situations with new people. Outsight leads to external perspective, or the ability to draw from new people and new situations. Try something new, expand the periphery of your job, or get involved in a new area of your organization. Small steps can lead to changing your mindset and can turn you into a leader. From there, you can follow Herminia's four steps to becoming a better leader:

  • Build bridges. Be a connector between the company, the outside world, or the industry and your team. Funnel information and connect your employees with what they most need to know.
  • Envision possibilities. Leading at any level means you are taking a group in a new direction, which means leaders must be able to find great opportunities and have excellent strategic vision.
  • Engage people. With a vision in place, you must be able to motivate others to buy in and follow through with the plan.
  • Embody the change. People are more likely to follow a leader they trust and connect with. If you want your team moving in a certain direction, you have to go that way, too. Lead by example and live your vision.

Leadership skills can be brought by all kinds of people. You might not become the world's best leader overnight, but by taking small steps and acting like a leader, before long, you may find yourself thinking like a leader with a team to guide.

Published on: Sep 28, 2016