How to grow your leadership muscle

Becoming a parent is a major life transition. As our identity shifts our new circumstances often prompt us to review how we work and what we want from life. Sadly, for many women it’s a time when they feel forced to make uncomfortable compromises. You’re ambitious, you’ve worked hard to establish your career and now you find yourself confronted by an organisational culture that insists you must continue to put in long hours and make work your primary commitment if you want to progress. It’s no wonder this is the point where the corporate world loses so many smart and talented women.

Professor Herminia Ibarra has built her career studying how people navigate important transitions at work. Her most recent book ‘Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader’ explains why most of what she’s learned about transition goes against conventional wisdom. She contends that people become leaders by doing leadership work; by growing into leaders. This activity sparks two important interrelated processes.

The first is an external process of developing a reputation for leadership potential – which can dramatically change how we see ourselves. And the second is an internal process of evolving our motivations and self-definition – which occurs in the context of our relationships with others. Professor Ibarra says:

“When we act like a leader by proposing new ideas, making contributions outside our area of expertise, or connecting people and resources to a worthwhile goal…people see us behaving as leaders and confirm as much. The social recognition and the reputation that develop over time with repeated demonstrations of leadership create conditions for what psychologists call internalizing a leadership identity – coming to see oneself as a leader and seizing more and more opportunities to behave accordingly.”

In the past a promotion or new job assignment was the prompt to adjust or reinvent our leadership behaviour. Nowadays – according to Professor Ibarra – major transitions are rarely so clearly labelled. We may find ourselves experiencing the need to step up to leadership without specific outside recognition or guidance – ‘the do-it-yourself transition’.

Does this thinking resonate with you? If so, I’d like to invite you to see your desire for more balance and your intention to make it work as an act of leadership. You’re pioneering new ways of working that more closely match 21st century expectations. You’re challenging outmoded corporate practices that limit possibilities and have a negative impact on wellbeing. And you’re becoming a role model for other working parents in your organisation and your industry.

You don’t have to do it alone. There are many resources – including this blog and my Balanced Leader Programme – to support you. What you do need is both courage and commitment to living your best life; to making the most of career and family. And that means taking charge. Acting like a leader. Growing your leadership muscle. For, as Professor Ibarra concludes:

 “If you don’t create new opportunities within the confines of your “day job” they may never come your way.”

8 thoughts on “How to grow your leadership muscle

  1. Interesting thoughts and a great read. Yes the work force does lose many talented women, but in regards to leading and being a leader making uncomfortable compromises comes with these responsibilities as a leader.


      1. Actually in my Air Force career, I had a huge amount of support and I witnessed a lot of changes throughout my career. I chose to leave the Air Force because I did my 22 1/2 years–although I could have served longer. In the end, it was time to raise my kiddos and stop moving so often. 🙂


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