Herminia Ibarra: An interview by Bob Morris

IbarraHerminia Ibarra is the Cora Chaired Professor of Leadership and Learning and Professor of Organisational Behaviour at INSEAD. Prior to joining INSEAD she served on the Harvard Business School faculty for thirteen years. She is a member of the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Councils, a judge for the Financial Times and McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award, and Chairs the Visiting Committee of the Harvard Business School. Thinkers 50 ranked Ibarra #9 among the most influential business gurus in the world.

Ibarra is an expert on professional and leadership development. One of her books, Working Identity: Unconventional Strategies for Reinventing Your Career (Harvard Business School Press, 2003), documents how people reinvent themselves at work. Her numerous articles are published in leading journals including the Harvard Business Review, Administrative Science Quarterly, Academy of Management Review, Academy of Management Journal, and Organization Science. Her research has been profiled in a wide range of media including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, and The Economist. She teaches in a variety of INSEAD programs and consults internationally on talent management, leadership development, and women’s careers. A native of Cuba, Ibarra received her M.A. and Ph.D. from Yale University where she was a National Science Fellow.

Her latest book, Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader, was published by Harvard Business Review Press (2015).

Here is an excerpt from my interview of Herminia.

* * *

Morris: Years ago, was there a turning point (if not an epiphany) that set you on the career course you continue to follow? Please explain.

I started my research career studying informal networks of relationships in organizations. I saw their power to shape people’s ability to get things done and advance in their careers. So I started to study what shapes people’s networks, what makes some people build networks more proactively than others and what kinds of networks they need to make important career transitions. I discovered that identity, our sense of who we are and who we want to become, is a powerful force in shaping the social circles that in turn affect us so significantly. I haven’t stopped studying how our identities evolve ever since.

Morris: What do you know now about the business world that you wish you knew when you went to work full-time for the first time? Why?

I’ve always been an academic but I have always taught in business schools. When you teach people who do not want to grow up to be like you no matter how successful you are (because they want to be business people)
you learn fast that it’s not “what you know” but your capacity to make it relevant for others that matters.

Morris: From which non– business book have you learned the most valuable lessons about business? Please explain.

 It’s hard to pick just one! One book that has made an enduring impression on me is developmental psychologist Donald Winnicott’s book, Playing and Reality. Winnicott described how children imagine various possibilities for themselves in the future, and they play out these possibilities via games, daydreams and make-believe explorations. The play world they create is in many ways a rehearsal for the “real” world.

This book was a source of some of the ideas I have developed about the importance of being more playful with one’s sense of self as an adult and how one actually does that.

Morris: In your opinion, why do so many C-level executives seem to have such a difficult time delegating work to others?

Anyone who is successful is vulnerable to what I call “competency traps.” A competency traps occurs when you enjoy most what you do best, so you do more of it and you get even better at it, so that it becomes hard to justify the time and investment required to get someone else to your “expert level.” It’s just faster and better done when you do it yourself. Over time, you come to define yourself by that competency, making it even harder to delegate that work to someone else. People will wittingly or unwittingly help you out, by refusing ownership and by passing the buck on to you. That’s how you get stuck. And of course, there is an opportunity cost: the time you are spending on routine work you might delegate is time you are not spending on more strategic activities.

* * *

To read the complete interview, please click here.

Herminia cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites:

INSEAD faculty link

Her website link

Amazon Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader link

HBR link

Thinkers50 link

Twitter link

“Facing Career Crosroads” video link

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