Extroverts Have a Lot to Learn from Introvert Leaders

It’s a common assumption that extroverts are better suited for leadership roles.  Their ability to connect with people, high degree of empathy, and intuitiveness certainly do give them an edge when it comes to motivating and leading others.

But it’s plainly false to presume that introverts are any less effective at taking on management or leadership roles. Just look at renowned introvert leaders like Abraham Lincoln, Gandhi, and Bill Gates.  In my experience, I’ve seen many an introvert take on and flourish in management roles.  What introverts lack in natural ability to connect with their staff, they make up for in awe-inspiring expertise and a concerted effort to learn how to properly lead teams.

Image graciously borrowed from Fast Company http://goo.gl/bSa4sZ

Image graciously borrowed from Fast Company http://goo.gl/bSa4sZ

So what is it about an introvert that helps them succeed in leadership and what can we extroverts learn from them to build our own leadership abilities? Full disclosure, on an extroversion scale of 1 to 10, I’m an 11.

Introverts tend to be deeply self-aware.  Introverts are more cognizant of their personalities and how they come across to others.  They know what they know and are accepting of what it is they need to learn to succeed at something.

Introverts recognize their weaknesses.  Introverts are much better than extroverts at owning their weaknesses and will work hard to develop the knowledge and skills they need to excel at what they’re doing.

Introverts follow the playbook.  Introverts are more apt to follow the training they receive, the rules and processes a company develops, and the coaching they get from HR.

Introverts inspire others through their deep technical expertise.  How many times have you heard employees complain about a manager who is “clueless” or doesn’t know what he or she is talking about?  Employees need to believe that their leaders know their subject areas.

Introverts aren’t egocentric.  Introverts tend to be much better at checking their egos and accepting what they don’t know.  They also tend to be more open to learning and self-improvement.

Introverts seek help.  Introverts, being rather self-aware, are more apt to seek the counsel of people who are experts in areas where they lack information or knowledge.

To me, that final point is the most important.  I’ve been in HR for 10 years and I’ve coached and trained more managers than I count.  More often than not, it’s the introverted manager who comes back to you for additional coaching or to work out a particular employee situation.

I recognize I’m doing a lot of generalizing in this post and not every introvert is management material, any more than every extrovert is.  The point is that there are natural strengths that come along with being an introvert – and for us extroverts – we definitely have something to learn from them.

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On With His Head! Employee Action Saves the CEO

If you live outside of New England, you’ve probably never heard of Market Basket. But last week, something amazing happened in this family-owned regional supermarket chain with stores throughout Massachusetts and New Hampshire.  In a way, they had a reverse “Arab Spring”, okay, well maybe not that significant, but you get what I mean – employees used social media to band together, engage their customers and communities, and save their CEO from the corporate guillotine.

Save Market Basket Facebook Page with nearly 12,500 likes

Save Market Basket Facebook Page with nearly 12,500 likes

After employees got word that several board members were proposing the ouster of CEO, Arthur T. Demoulas, they took to social media in outrage at the thought.  They started an online petition which has reached almost 45,000 signatures, the Twitter hashtag #SaveArthurT, and a Facebook page that has grown to nearly 12,500 likes.  They used Facebook to organize rallies at stores throughout the region and they’ve attracted significant attention from the media and support from politicians, like US Rep Niki Tsongas (D-MA). For now anyway, their approach seems to have worked.  The board has made no further moves to remove Demoulas from his position.

What is it that caused employees to raise their pricing guns and dust mops in protest?  Was it a deep love for the CEO who grew up in this business?  Was it fear of losing their jobs?  Was it the ugly gray and maroon deli smocks?  No!  It was a business decision. 

Market Basket used their "Specials" board to thank their customers and employees

Market Basket used their “Specials” board to thank their customers and employees

You see, while competitors focused on replacing staff with self-checkouts, tracking purchases through key-chain cards, and raising prices, Market Basket has been experiencing unprecedented growth by building new stores, keeping customer costs low, and focusing on customer service.  Taken aback that the board would even consider removing Demoulas, after so much success under his leadership, employees stood up against a potential business decision that they believe will take the company in the wrong direction, resulting in higher costs for consumers.

As an HR guy, these are my favorite takeaways from this story:

  • Talk about engagement!  One of the most surprising parts of this story is the extent to which these employees went to have their voices heard within this company.
  • Employees instinctively want what’s best for the business!  The actions taken by Market Basket’s employees were fueled by their beliefs about how to operate the business and satisfy their customers, not how much they stood to personally gain.
  • Social media strikes again!  Once again, social media demonstrates that you can’t keep it out of the workplace.  Resistance is futile!

What would you do if your employees took this approach to raising opposition to a change in your organization?

Leadership Lessons from Hillary Clinton

I’m in Chicago attending the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Annual Conference.  Recently former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke to an audience of roughly 15,000 HR professionals about the ties between the field of HR and the ability for our nation to succeed.  She talked about investing in education and training of workers, and drew parallels between the skills needed for international diplomacy and the diplomacy needed to be successful in HR.  TFH

Clinton also outlined 5 lessons she’s learned, the hard way, from her various roles and responsibilities:

  1. Good decisions are based on evidence, not ideology.  This speaks to the importance of data.  Whether you’re trying to convince your CEO to invest money in a certain program or you’re trying to pass a law that could change the world – evidence, data, research is key to no only making a good decision, but to convincing others that the decision is the right course of action to take.
  2. Leadership is a team sport.  No one leader has ever been successful without inspiring others to work with and help him/her implement their vision.  She referred to the transition of her relationship, with President Obama, post 2008 election, as moving from a team of rivals to an unrivaled team.  An effective leader is not afraid to bring other opinions, even contrary ones, into the conversation and to integrate the best ideas, no matter who came up with them.
  3. You can’t win if you don’t show up.  Clinton used an example of traveling to the tiny African nation of Togo in her role as secretary of state to back up this example.  While Togo may be tiny, Togo holds a rotating seat on the UN Security Council.  Being there, listening to Togo’s concerns, looking their leaders in eye and making those personal connections can help influence Togo’s decisions moving forward.  In HR, we need to be in the “room”, build relationships with leaders in other functions and with employees, and get out from behind our computers.
  4. A whisper can be louder than shout.  Making demands, yelling, screaming, and threatening hardly ever delivers the results you’d want.  Speaking to others calmly and rationally, listening, I mean really listening, to what people are saying, and being empathetic can create much better results.
  5. Follow the trendlines, not the headlines.  Another call for data and research.  Look for trends in your data to help decide what to do next.  Don’t be persuaded by national headlines or popular opinion if it’s contrary to what data is telling you.  Sometimes we have to make unpopular decisions.  If we’re using analysis that identifies trends, rather than whimsy, it will be easier to convince others that our decisions were necessary.

Regardless of where one falls on the political spectrum, this talk was one worth listening to.  Her experience as a First Lady, a Senator, and as Secretary of State have taught Mrs. Clinton many important lessons on leadership and I’m grateful for having had the opportunity to learn a little from her.

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