Introversion is not a liability: why introverts make great leaders.

Culturally, we tend to associate leadership with extroversion and attach less importance to judgment, vision, and resolve. We prize leaders who are eager talkers over those who have something to say. ~Susan Cain

While working on my doctorate, my cohort was split into two smaller cohorts of a dozen students. The split was simply alphabetical. You would think it would have been a somewhat random split of personality types. Not so. The first half of the alphabet was essentially all introverted and the second half was predominately extroverted. Note my last name—Scanland—I was the introvert in the predominately extroverted cohort.

This is one of many experiences I’ve had where as an introvert I was asked to step it up and be more extroverted. I’m going to assume it’s not intentional, but for the extroverts reading this, there’s something I’d like for you to note. When introverts are asked to be more extroverted, it feels like you’re being told that extroversion is superior to introversion.

It’s not just my own personal experiences. I’ve had clients flat out tell me that they were concerned about individuals’ ability to be effective leaders because they were introverted.

Here are just a few research conclusions about introverted leaders.

From Susan Cain

Introverted leaders often possess an innate caution that may be more valuable than we realize.

The charisma of ideas matters more than a leader’s gregarious charms.

From research conducted by Adam M. Grant, Francesca Gino, and David A. Hofmann

Extroverts and introverts are equally successful in leadership roles overall.

Introverts, in certain situations (i.e., complex and uncertain), actually make better leaders.

An introvert’s ability to hear others, plan, theorize, organize information, and think evidently has its own values!

From Jim Collins’ research…

The best-performing companies of the late 20th century were all led by CEO’s described with words like “reserved” and “understated.”

From the 2012 U.S. Presidential race…

Two introverts ran against each other for U.S. President in 2012: Barak Obama and Mitt Romney.

Finally, from Ilya Pozin on, here are some of the myriad leadership characteristics of introverts that are often overlooked.

  • They’re motivated by productivity, not ambition.
  • They build more meaningful connections.
  • They don’t get easily distracted.
  • They solve problems with thoroughness rather than in haste.

Introverts make great leaders! Maximize their assets instead of asking them to “blend in” with the extroverts.

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John McCain: The Character of a Leader

The character of a leader: “Despite our differences, much more unites us than divides us.” ~John McCain

I admired John McCain. Not because I agreed with his politics, because he had the character of a leader. I never voted for McCain; you don’t have to agree with someone to admire their character. As the country remembers John McCain’s service, I’ve been thinking of his character.

Standing up for your adversary takes character.

As described on by Bill Murphy Jr.…

“One of the most famous [examples of McCain’s civility] came in 2008, when McCain was running against then-Senator Barack Obama for the presidency, and a woman asking a question called Obama ‘an Arab’ (as a pejorative, which is of course a whole additional issue). McCain responded by taking the microphone away from her and saying that Obama was ‘a decent family man and a citizen that I just happen to have fundamental disagreements with.'”

Practicing humility takes character.

Jim Collins’ research on leaders reported in Good to Great uncovered two attributes of the highest form of leadership (which Collins coined level-5 leadership). The two attributes are profound humility and professional will. In simple terms, his definition of humility is an attitude that it’s not all about you. It’s about something bigger than yourself. John McCain said, “Nothing in life is more liberating than to fight for a cause larger than yourself, something that encompasses you but is not defined by your existence alone.”

Great leaders have integrity, and that reflects character.

The definition of integrity is the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles, or moral uprightness. It is a personal choice to hold one’s self to consistent standards. In John McCain’s own words: “Being true to our conscience, being honest with ourselves, will determine the character of our relations with others. That is a concise definition of integrity.”

Great leaders build on commonalities and shared values, that requires character.

Many personality profiles use a similar question format. They provide a list of four adjectives and you’re asked to select the one that most describes you and the one that least describes you. The neuroscience behind the results draws on the fact that we tend to be more certain about what we don’t like. Therefore, I’ve often thought that leaders who play-up differences (i.e., what we don’t like) take the easy way by evoking emotion and seducing followers.

Consequently, focusing on shared values and building on commonalities can be a more  challenging leadership route; it reflects character. One of my favorite McCain quotes: “Our shared values define us more than our differences. And acknowledging those shared values can see us through our challenges today if we have the wisdom to trust in them again.”

John McCain—the character of a leader.

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For leaders, it is THE ONE THING.

Leaders: The struggle to feel valued is one of the most insidious and least acknowledged issues in organizations. ~Tony Schwartz

The struggle to feel valued…that’s right leaders, it’s a struggle! One of my favorite authors (yes, I admit, I have many) Edgar Schein said, “We value task accomplishment over relationship building and either are not aware of this cultural bias, or worse, don’t care and don’t want to be bothered with it.” Hang with me and I’ll explain why I think that is contributing to the struggle to feel valued.

Tony Schwartz said, “The struggle to feel valued is one of the most insidious and least acknowledged issues in organizations. Most employees are expected to check their feelings at the door when they get to work. But try as we might, we can’t. Our core emotional need is to feel valued. Without a stable sense of value, we don’t know who we are and we don’t feel safe in the world.”

Schwartz continues his description: “the experience of feeling valued — meaning accepted and appreciated, recognized and respected.” Here’s my connection back to Schein. Those words— accepted, appreciated, recognized and respected—I believe are only possible in “relationship building.”

All of leadership begins (and maybe ends) with relating to others in a way that helps them feel valued. It is THE ONE THING because if leaders can’t get that right, not much else is going to fall into place. Here are only three (there are many) ways that leaders can help others feel valued.

Leaders who genuinely care.

“Genuinely care more for the person than what the person can offer you and/or your organization. Value is communicated when you genuinely care for people as human beings and not human ‘doings’ (and what they can do for you to help you build your kingdom).” Those are some strong words from Doug Fields.

I do a quick exercise with teams so they can begin to see their teammates as people and not roles. It never ceases to amaze me how little even highly interdependent teams actually know about one another. If you don’t know anything about others, that makes genuinely caring about them next to impossible.

Leaders who give feedback well.

Feedback delivered well is an incredible gift. Feedback delivered well allows someone to feel accepted, appreciated, recognized, and respected. It’s feedback in the moment. It’s feedback delivered from a caring and growth mindset, not from a punitive or punishing mindset. It’s feedback that’s delivered clearly and allows the receiver to fully understand how something should look in the future if they were to accept the feedback.

Leaders who practice dialogue.

Not every conversation should be a dialogue. But without any dialogue, people aren’t going to feel valued. David G. Benner tells us that “Dialogue strives for the engagement of two or more persons in ways that honors both their separateness and their connectedness. Meeting someone in dialogue always involves at least a temporary suspension of our presuppositions about ourselves and the world. This means it always involves a degree of vulnerability to truth.” Or from a less philosophical perspective, Stephen R. Covey said, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” Dialogue requires listening to understand.

THE ONE THING: Do your employees feel valued?

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Leaders = Curiosity, Compassion, and Courage

Leaders can’t begin to consume every insight about leadership, that would be like drinking from a fire hydrant. Instead, grab what you can, put it into practice, and repeat. ~Dr. Kathryn Scanland

Listening to fourteen dynamic leaders speaking over two days really is a lot like trying to drink from a fire hydrant. At least that’s what I’m assuming since I’ve never actually tried to drink from a fire hydrant. I attended the Global Leadership Summit last week and since I was struggling to choose any one speaker to focus on, following are three themes I heard throughout the two days: curiosity, compassion, and courage.

Leaders model CURIOSITY.

Angela Ahrendts (Senior VP of Retail, Apple) said that leaders need to trust their instincts: “Leaders need to pursue the possibilities, not just protect the probabilities.Strive Masiyiwa (Founder & Chairman of Econet Group) said, “Curiosity: that’s where innovation comes from.” Leaders who are curious never stop growing. I appreciated John Maxwell’s (Author, Leadership Expert) challenging statement about intentionally growing every day. He said, “If you’re still excited about what you did five years ago, you’re not growing.” My takeaway: Ask curious questions, be open to possibilities, keep growing.

Leaders demonstrate COMPASSION.

While the word compassion wasn’t used frequently, what was referenced repeatedly was emotional intelligence (i.e., how are you treating me). Danny Meyer (Restaurateur and Author of Setting the Table) shared that the number one trait he looks for when hiring is kindheartedness. Angela Ahrendts said that “The higher up you go, the more you need to connect.” She described it as someone who “walks slowly through the crowd.” Craig Groeschel (Co-founder, Pastor, Life.Church) said the four most important words for an effective leader are: “I notice” and “You matter.” My takeaway: Emotional intelligence will be the ultimate determiner of your leadership effectiveness.

Leaders are COURAGEOUS.

People would rather follow a leader who is always real than one who is always right.” This is how Craig Groeschel closed his presentation, talking about the courage it takes to be real, transparent, and vulnerable, even when you don’t know. A number of the speakers talked about courage in the context of making mistakes. Carla Harris (Vice Chairman, Managing Director and Senior Client Advisor, Morgan Stanley) challenged leaders to be courageously decisive: “The price of inaction is greater than the cost of making mistakes.” Danny Meyer said, “The road to success is paved with mistakes well-handled.” The founder and CEO of Quali Health in South Africa, Dr. Nthabiseng Legoete, reminded us that “Challenges don’t mean it’s not working. Don’t be surprised when you face defeat. We need to forgive ourselves for mistakes.” If we are courageous, we keep going. Erwin McManus (Author, Founder of Mosaic), said, “We thought we failed, but actually we quit.” My takeaway: Leaders will make mistakes, fail, admit it, learn, and keeping moving forward.

Join me at the fire hydrant, grab what you can, put it into practice, and repeat.

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All Leaders Leave Behind a “Wake”

As a leader, you leave a “wake” behind you in every interaction, relationship, project, and season. Your wake encompasses the results of your leadership, and the relationships with those you lead. One without the other is ineffective. ~Dr. Henry Cloud

I’ve been thinking about the idea of leaders leaving behind a “wake” and here’s the image that plays over in my mind. A number of years ago I had a cottage on a small inland lake in Michigan. This is how I define “small.” Two people could just barely water ski at the same time. So, given the size of the lake, the wake left by the skiers meant it was challenging for everyone—the other skier, the swimmers along the shore, those attempting to fish in their rowboats, etc.

Results and Relationships are Bound Together

With that image, Henry Cloud says that “your ‘wake’ encompasses the results of your leadership, and the relationships with those you lead. One without the other is ineffective.” I would add that not only is one ineffective without the other, I don’t think it’s possible to untangle them. I believe that your results and your relationships are bound together, like it or not. Leading is not a solo act, kind of like numerous people trying to enjoy a small inland lake at the same time. You may be a fabulous technical skier (great results), but you will still leave a wake that’s going to impact others (relationships).

What’s Most Recent is What’s Most Pressing on Minds and Hearts

Another aspect of a wake that I believe is true in leadership, is that the most dynamic, powerful, and intense part of a wake is the part that’s right behind you. Whatever you most recently did, said, or achieved, is what’s most pressing on individuals’ minds and hearts. Which is why on the small lake, there was a shared understanding that fishermen would go out on the lake early in the day and skiers would take their turn later in the day because they recognized the impact of their wake on others.

Leaders’ Actions Can Have a Far-Reaching Effect

Even though the most intense part of the wake is right behind you, the ripple effect from the wake can span a lengthy distance. Quoting the Dalai Lama, “Just as ripples spread out when a single pebble is dropped into water, the actions of individuals can have far-reaching effects.” On the lake, the ripple effect of the skiers was felt all the way to the shoreline. Even the children playing in the sand on the shore could be impacted by the wake of a strong skier; much like the impact of the “wake” of a strong leader.

Leaders Have a More Intense Wake Because of Their Position

When you accept the role of a leader, I believe you also accept the fact that you are going to leave behind a “wake.” Possibly a more intense and powerful “wake” because of your position. As Abraham Lincoln said, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”

It’s a Daunting Responsibility

I agree with Henry’s statement: “As a leader, you leave a “wake” behind you in every interaction, relationship, project, and season.” I also believe it’s a daunting statement. A “wake” can propel others forward; it can also do a tremendous amount of damage. It’s a powerful force that must not be taken lightly.

Thinking about your recent interactions, relationships, projects, or season as a leader, what’s being left behind in your “wake”?

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