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Jesse Segers

June 08, 2017

Jesse Segers


Koen Marichal

Leadership: a leap of faith? A sneak preview of the Ibarra Masterclass

Human Resources

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HR Square and Antwerp Management School are pleased to present a Masterclass on Leadership with Herminia Ibarra (INSEAD) on June 15 in Brussels. Professor Ibarra will be in conversation with Jesse Segers and Koen Marichal of Antwerp Management School, who will also be presenting their new book ‘The Leader’s Clothes (De kleren van de leider)’

Herminia Ibarra (INSEAD): “You don’t develop leadership by learning skills outside of your work context or by reading books or by stacking up self-knowledge outside of context.”

Many organizations are currently struggling at the very core of their operations. It is not about repairing a flying plane mid-air anymore, it is about re-inventing it. Tensions are rising and there is an urgent need for drastic solutions. The paradoxes in organizations are stacking up. At the same time, many managers and staff-members still stick with the status-quo. They work hard, plod on, and drag their heels. They put the pressure on, develop new action plans, procedures, controls and rules. But they do not see that they are flogging a dead horse. They stick to the illusion that adaptive challenges or ‘wicked problems’ can be solved technically and that the uncontrollable is controllable.


"Many managers do not see that they are flogging a dead horse."

That is where the great difference lies in leadership. Leaders are now understanding that old solutions do not work anymore. Change is not to be found in the management system, but in people’s behavior. Employees should experiment, take risks, let go, try new behaviors. They should stop flogging that dead horse and take a walk on their own. Create new paths. Paths that could lead them to new goals and customers. Having a plan is useful to get things moving, but nothing more.


Action makes the difference

Organizational scientist Karl Weick describes the real-life story of Hungarian soldiers who were trapped in the Alps in a sudden snowstorm. They thought their days were numbered. After two days someone found a map in their pocket, which made it easier to think clearly and calmed them down. On the third day, the weather got slightly better and they started their search for the valley. They used the found map for orientation. When they arrived, their lieutenant asked them some questions. He looked at the map, but to his surprise it turned out to be a map of the Pyrenees, not the Alps!

The moral of the story is that an initial plan is needed to create possibilities and engender action, but walking itself is what creates variation, new data. By studying and interpreting it, the walk generates meaning and the direction gets clearer. This circular process ensured the soldiers’ survival, not the content of the plan. The same circle appears in popular forms of organizational thinking: design thinking, agile management, lean start-ups, etc.


"Leadership is an initiating force and one which is underused in organizations where a big part of leadership is still about predicting and controlling."

Leaders may have an initial idea which they know may not be completely accurate, but it at least brings movement. The real difference occurs in the action and then the reflection afterwards. And that order is of critical importance. You need action to be able to reflect if you want to create new meaning. Or in other words: “How can you know what they think, until you see what you say?” Leadership is an initiating force and one which is underused in organizations where a big part of leadership is still about predicting and controlling.

This is how leaders arise too, according to professor Herminia Ibarra, who will host the master class by HR Square and Antwerp Management School on June 15. You don’t develop leadership by teaching yourself skills outside of your work context or by solely reading books or by stacking up your self-knowledge outside of context. You develop leadership in the first place by experimenting, trying new behaviors, confronting yourself with new ways of thinking, and by learning to co-operate with your enemy.


Moving beyond magical thinking in leadership

Too many investments in leadership are still based on the erroneous idea that you can learn leadership and then apply it. It’s high time we quit this magical thinking and began to run rational technical leadership programs. Action is needed, followed by reflection on the action, not the other way around. It is up to the organizational leaders to get deeply involved in the agenda of leadership development.

A lot of organizations want to, but can’t. They get stuck in four areas of risk, as revealed by our research with Flanders Synergy:

  • A lack of transformational leadership at the top. Leadership innovation is delegated and gets stuck. It requires personal engagement and courage to hold fast amidst the uncertainty and tension that come with drastic change.
  • Leadership is often left untouched. The underlying power structures and ideas on leadership are not being exposed and tackled, while that is exactly the essence of empowerment and self-organization: a different perspective on decision and control processes.
  • Those at the top should act based on behavior. The upper echelons cannot expect the rest of the organization to act differently if they won’t break their own routines.
  • Leaders are easily left on their own, with the idea that “they will adapt.” No: as Petriglieri and Ibarra say, they need space for identity work.


‘Silver bullets’ in leadership

Our new book offers a complete update to our previous 19 leadership insights of 2013. The new book is almost double the size. Some insights were scrapped and others were added. Since then, self leadership and shared leadership have become the leadership silver bullets. Hierarchy and power thinking haven’t gone, but make space for these still unused sources of leadership.

Increasingly, we see leadership development as a part of a range of interventions that intersect and create the desired dynamic. This opens up the playing field for HR, which is a good position from which to claim leadership in human and organizational dynamics.

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Herminia Ibarra (INSEAD)

Herminia Ibarra was born in 1970 in Havana, Cuba. She graduated from the University of Miami with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology. She received her MA and PhD from Yale University in Economics (Organizational Behavior), after which she worked as a professor for thirteen years at the Harvard Business School Economics faculty. Since 2002 Herminia Ibarra has been Professor of Organizational Behavior and Director of The Leadership Transition Program at INSEAD (Fontainebleau). She is currently the Charles Handy Visiting Professor of Organisational Behavior at London Business School. For years Herminia Ibarra’s star has been rising in the skies of management gurus. She has a particular flair for translating well-founded and relevant scientific insights into stories that everyone can understand.

Want to discover more insights on leadership from Herminia Ibarra, Jesse Segers and Koen Marichal? Come to our 
Masterclass Leadership 'Act like a leader, think like a leader'!

Act like a leader and subscribe now!