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Herminia Ibarra is the Charles Handy Professor of Organizational Behaviour at London Business School (LBS). Prior to joining LBS, she served on the INSEAD and Harvard Business School faculties. An authority on Leadership and Career Development, Thinkers 50 ranks Ibarra among the top management thinkers in the world. She is the author of the best selling, Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader and Working Identity: Unconventional Strategies for Reinventing your Career. She writes for HBR and business publications such as Financial Times, Wall Street Journal and New York Times. 

In our conversation, we unpack the nuance behind Herminia’s belief “Adults are more likely to act their way into a new way of thinking than think their way into a new way of acting”. We talk about how leaders in transition could experiment with different pathways and think about a portfolio versus a full-time role. We also get to the bottom of the catch-22 that a several professionals encounter especially in identity consuming time greedy careers such as Management Consulting, Investment Banking, Private Equity, Law and related professions. We also speak about avoiding the risk of foreclosure while evaluating options and discuss the role of the near and dear around us in helping us get to a new orbit. 

This conversation is likely to be of value to people who are at cross roads or people who are in successful careers but feel an increasing dissonance grow inside them. Published in August 2019.

Acting your way to new thinking

Herminia speaks about the criticality of not over-thinking around transitions and urges us to take actions which gives us new “material” for us to reflect on and move forward. She specifically urges us to craft experiments (try new activities and roles), shifting connections (find doors into new worlds) and making sense to rework our story.



Experimenting with different pathways

Herminia speaks about the criticality of sticking to your core and playing to your strengths but at the same time finding a way you can experiment and try different experiences on the edges. She speaks about how you need to build a bridge into a new possibility. Has parallels with the journey of Papa CJ and Amish Tripathi.



Portfolio approach versus Full-time role

Herminia speaks about how leaders should think about choosing between a full time role and a portfolio where they take on a set of initiatives. She goes on to speak about the criticality of having an anchor around which we could build our identity which often happens by default when we work in a corporate context.



Pausing to reinvent

Herminia speaks about how it is critical to create mind-space for us to reflect on our experiences especially when we deviate from the standard path. That process of reflection is often critical for people to have a clearer sense of their identity and their fit with the initiatives they are pursuing. She also speaks about how reinventing yourself around mid-life can sometimes take as long as 3 years.



Operational, Personal and Strategic networks

Herminia speaks about the different networks that we need to bring to bear especially when we are in transition. She speaks about personal, operational and strategic networks and goes on to say that the first two often evolve by default but one needs to be deliberate about the third. She also speaks about how leaders need to think about acting like a bridge rather than as a hub where everything converges into the leader.



Identity play versus Identity work

Herminia speaks about the distinction between Identity Work and Identity Play and speaks about how we should think about crafting experiments where we can play around with our identity authentically rather than going down the “fake it till you make it” path. She re-iterates that how we show up is as critical as what we do.



The perils of foreclosure

Herminia speaks about two dimensions – commitment and exploration – when leaders go through a transition. She speaks about how there is a tendency for leaders to commit to something too early and how that could lead to a suboptimal solution because they haven’t considered enough possibilities before they make a decision.



Role of the spouse

Herminia speaks about the role of the spouse in transitions and the criticality of aligning the transition strategy with them. Very often, implicitly they assume that you would plan your way and dive into an opportunity shortly after. They are often not mentally prepared to deal with the phase of exploration and experimentation that is often required before you make a choice of direction. She speaks about the importance of staying close to them and keeping them updated on the thinking process during a transition.



Transitioning from well-paying time-greedy careers

Herminia speaks about the specific challenges facing professionals who are in time-greedy and identity-consuming careers. She provides some thought-starters for those professionals to take charge of the narrative and steer their journeys in line with their evolving life context.



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