Act Like a Leader, Think Like a LeaderI was prepared to dislike this book. From the title, which seems to emphasise heading off on a course of action without fully considering the consequences, to the coining of “outsight” as a “cycle of acting like a leader and then thinking like a leader“, it was tempting to put the book down.

I’m glad I persisted. There’s a huge amount of practical advice in it, and the argument quickly becomes persuasive after the first few pages.

First up, author Herminia Ibarra of INSEAD states a few truisms. Namely, that the way we think is a product of our past experience and so the best way of changing our mind-set is to act differently.

Ibarra has three main central chapters each on a different aspect of how to act like a leader, and each involves redefinition — of your job, your network, and yourself.

Firstly, our jobs. We like to do what we already do well, and because of that, we get better at it. This applied just as much in Adam Smith’s time with the specialisation of labour to our more skilled based jobs today.

We allocate more time to what we are good at, and so devote less time to learning other things that are also important to our development. Over time, it therefore gets more costly to invest in learning to do new things because the opportunity cost of spending time doing something else is high, and in this way we become trapped.

Circumstances change, we find it difficult to do so, we’re in trouble, and we certainly aren’t acting like a leader.

Ibarra delineates the difference between management (routine work) and leadership (what should we be doing instead) and the need for a leap of faith “because transformation is always more uncertain than incremental progress”.

Instead of acting like “a hub“, in our business we need to become “a bridge between our team and our external environment” because then we gain the outsight needed to develop a point of view on the business, see the big picture organisationally and set the direction accordingly.

The networking chapter successfully disarms our standard objections to having anything to do with networking, firstly by pointing out that we tend to network with those closest to us and most resembling ourselves – which the author terms as being “lazy and narcissistic“.

The objections to networking — that it does not feel authentic — is using people, you have more urgent things to do and relationships should be allowed to form spontaneously in any case are dealt with, and the benefits both to you and others in the form of perspective and knowledge explained.

Lastly, there is the challenge to change the way you act. In part, this is to stop using being “authentic” as an excuse for poor behaviours.

As Ibarra points out: “The biggest problem with the true-to-self approach is that it defines authenticity according to the past and, by consequence, defines change as a loss.” In place of this, Ibarra advocates imitating others, and by doing so, creating a new synthesis which combines your own qualities with the qualities you are hoping to assume.

It’s a playful plagiarism, not of one person or mode of behaviour, but many. In this way, we can reinvent ourselves and the way we respond to life, beginning a process of what Harvard psychologist Robert Kegan calls “self-authoring”, although others might call it a mid-life crisis.

It is when we start to work out who we really are and what it is we want to do, finally freed from the pressures of much earlier in our life when often we fell into a career and a way of thinking about ourselves which might now be increasingly irrelevant.

So, an interesting book, which once you can leave behind some of the terminology, has lots of practical advice, and a nice way of persuading you of its point of view.

I read it in one sitting (London to Doha), then re-read the best bits Doha to Mumbai. Well worth the time.

Harvard Business Review Press, £20