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There is no cookie cutter template for good leadership

We’ve all read the articles: “Top 10 Traits of a Great Leader” or “5 Qualities All Successful Leaders Share”. These articles invariably sing the praises of leaders with intuition, confidence, creativity, honesty and focus to spare and I think we can all agree that these traits are definitely on display by leaders we admire. If you are making your transition to a leadership role, you might wonder if you are up to the challenge and how you can mold yourself into the kind of leader people write listicles about.

Herminia Ibarra’s new book, “Act Like A Leader, Think Like A Leader” (Harvard Business Review Press, 2015) takes an innovative approach to the question of what makes a great leader. Instead of 10 traits or 5, or however many the lists tell you to check off, Ibarra suggests leadership qualities may not be so universal.

“Part of the problem with leadership education is that we’re asking “what is the model?” or “what are the six traits of a good leader?” or “what do these certain people do before breakfast?” But there is no model and it varies a lot by situation. A cookie cutter template for leadership does not exist. But what they do share is a real belief in what they are trying to do and the ability to be contagious in their enthusiasm.”

Key to becoming a successful leader, says Ibarra, is action and experimentation. From the first chapter:

“The only way to think like a leader is to first act: to plunge yourself into new projects and activities, interact with very different kinds of people, and experiment with unfamiliar ways of getting things done. In times of transition and uncertainty, thinking and introspection should follow action and experimentation – not vice versa.”

Ibarra’s term for this is “Outsight”. She suggests introspection and self-analysis can only take leaders so far and that it is through seeking out new knowledge, experiences and networks that a leader grows – and acts – as a better, more effective type of leader.

Her “Outsight” model is backed up with practical actions and steps to help readers become a better, more authentic leader. It’s a new way of looking at developing leadership skills and one that understands that great leaders come from all walks of life, and all personality types – and that trying to fit ourselves into an acceptable “type” is doing ourselves and those we lead a great disservice.

Find the book here.