Thursday, April 7, 2016

Should all bosses be extroverted?

One of the things that I do in my work is teach graduate classes for aspiring leaders. These working professionals have experience ranging from a couple years to several decades. My classes deal with issues such as how an organizational system affects behaviors, leadership as actions rather than position, power and influence dynamics, leading change, and others. A rewarding aspect of this is hearing the insights that emerge from these capable adults as I guide them to reflect on their own workplaces and interactions.

Among my students who are introverts as well as clients and friends, I sometimes hear comments similar to these that reveal how their boss is an extrovert (among other traits that may be unrelated to extroversion): She has to weigh-in and meddle in every issue. He sends out masses of emails with delegated tasks on tight deadlines that serve mainly to flatter his own stature in the organization.  She forces me to think on a dime when I need time to reflect. He doesn't listen.  While we introverts can learn to manage these traits using some of the tactics I've outlined, we have to question such managers' ability to truly lead in a way that generates respect and shows integrity.  These behaviors also can make us cynical if we believe that is all it takes to climb the corporate ladder. And, in fact, research shows that frequently extroverts do garner more promotions and make more money than introverts.

An intrinsic conflict exists naturally between introverts and their extroverted bosses due to their different styles yet it seems that a preponderance of bosses are extroverted - making this a pervasive issue. It takes concentrated effort to apply the principles (outlined in my first book) of asserting your right to be different - to seek time to reflect, to rely on competence rather than glib talk, to build influence by trading expertise, and so on. The first step of accepting your introversion as a strength can be relatively easy compared to the ongoing challenge of an extroverted boss. It can be surmounted, of course, mainly by developing a strong personal connection coupled with your innate competence and a good dose of assertiveness (as you follow my plan). But the cost of an extroverted boss to energy and time can be high.

Isn't it time that organizations and their executives rethink personnel decisions that are founded in culturally stuck stereotypes?  Dr. Greg Gull says: "Until we make ... organizations as social systems in service to humankind ... human development will remain unrealized, a fantasy."

Organizations serve all of us, with our diverse personalities and ways of being in the world. As much as I can appreciate their differences from us, extroverts should be given no automatic pass to the management suite. Competent introverted professionals will continue to expend needless energy abiding an extroverted boss until our organizations recognize that one doesn't need to be an extrovert to manage, much less to lead. By discarding the myth of leadership as control by talk and hair-trigger movement, organizations might avoid waste of much precious introvert potential.  Using the principles I've laid out, introvert strengths are well-suited to lead with both competence and integrity.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Interpersonal Skills for Introverts: Appreciate Yourself More as an Introvert to Gain Confidence

Lately I've been captivated by a couple of extroverts in action. Once was simply seeing a photo of a well- known celebrity (no, I won't name names) among some adoring folks seated chatting with her in an informal setting. They were clearly enchanted in the extreme.  What struck me?  These people looked genuinely happy. There was no artifice - only pure enjoyment. 

Okay, I'll say it: People who are naturally extroverted usually are fun. Now, I'll likely catch some flak for saying that from some of my introverted friends. (And of course it's not a universal truth because some extroverts are not fun.) But many introverts do indeed know that as much as extroverts may annoy them from time to time, extroverted pals are the proof that opposites really do attract. It's the warmth. The smiles. The twinkling eyes accompanied by effortless chat.

We introverts have all those qualities too - just not as a universal way of being with others out in the world. Don't misunderstand me: we are fun.  But we can be pigeon-holed as morose by our extroverted Western culture. That's sometimes a real tragedy in our lives and frequently a very real professional challenge that we have to surmount and overcome.  Merely by virtue of being quiet, we are occasionally slotted as being not only boring but just not that much fun to be around! (Not to mention vacuous - "if you're not talking, you have nothing to say" is such a tragic and false assumption about introverts.) Even more damaging perhaps is when being quiet is falsely viewed as lacking interpersonal capabilities - another myth.

I am tempted to suggest that we find a way to be what extroverts are.  And that is surely a strategy in small doses and in carefully chosen settings. It usually means knowing our subject and becoming totally comfortable in the element that we're in. Think of that nerdy kid you knew in 6th grade when he got to talk about his passion in class.  Heck, you may have been that nerdy kid - so you might think of the times and places where you are animated and seek to replicate that.

But - and it's a big but - I believe there's something fundamentally wrong about setting the goal of becoming more extroverted more often. Instead, I suggest that we appreciate extroverts for who they are and appreciate ourselves more for who we are.  It is the confidence that comes from being "comfortable in our skin" that gives the greatest boost to our professional demeanor and consequent success.  Not arrogant or timid, not resentful, not anything but truly accepting that, as an introvert, we are different in a good way. And, in fact, this acceptance often comes in part from knowing when we are in our element doing what we are good at.

Captivating?  Perhaps or perhaps not. But calm, capable, and confident and that's much more than enough.