Cardiff, 17 January 2018 — Acting is a sensitive business, and leaders create their own theater experience as an essential part of learning outside-in.
Visiting London the past few days inspired me to learn what it means to be acting in the theater. When actors step out on to the stage, they make themselves vulnerable in front of a live audience to act their part of the play.
It is always a sensitive moment, a new actor friend confided. When all goes well, he explained, the stage allows him to create wondrous moments that we keep thinking about long after watching the show. Yet, when even one person in the audience plays with his phone, that tiny light can be enough to distract the actor.
What makes the theater experience so unique, then, is that performers keep stepping on stage to let us enjoy their acting, in a way that is both public and intimately private. In that experience, I believe, lies a lesson for all the people who aspire to create changes in the world.
As leaders, we can choose to learn in two directions, inside-out and outside-in. As we work on our values, set goals to achieve, and discover who we want to become in our life, we experience learning inside-out. A multitude of books and other learning materials can guide us on that journey.
The other direction of learning—what I call outside-in—calls us to take on challenges that are new and feel uncomfortable and downright daunting, and to do that in a public manner in front of other people. As we play out new behaviors and roles, it can feel as if we are stepping out on a stage, as an actor, and it is a time to feel vulnerable.
Engaging in outside-in learning is essential for leaders. It requires from us to act first, and then think, rather than the other way around.
According to Herminia Ibarra, a professor at INSEAD, this way of learning is more needed than ever before in today's fast-changing business environment. Rather than spending a lot of time on thinking and self-reflection, Ibarra calls on executives to "act their way into a new way of thinking" and for us to "plunge ourselves into new projects and activities, interact with different kinds of people, and experiment with new ways of getting things done."
Watching plays and dialoguing with my actor friend in London this week have made me realize how important it is to hear my stage call, and to respond to that call by stepping out 'on stage' and acting out new activities in leadership development.
If that makes me feel sensitive and vulnerable, that is exactly what learning outside-in is about. And I know that several new opportunities are waiting for me to experiment with, starting this month.
Earlier this month, I coached several leaders as they took their plunges into new projects that were outside their comfort zones. I witnessed how they quickly gained valuable experience from stepping 'on stage' in acting out new roles. They took action to act.
What about your stage call? Have you heard it? What actions are you taking to respond? Your stage is waiting for you to start acting in your play.