The Quiet Strength of the Introverted Leader

introverted leader

Introverted Leader

 

One of the biggest misconceptions about leadership remains that you must be or should be an extrovert in order to succeed. Jennifer B. Kahnweiler, PhD, CSP, debunked that myth long ago with her book The Introverted Leader (new edition).

This month, she released an updated version of the book, updated with new research, stories, and experiences.

If you’re an introvert, you don’t have to pretend to be an extrovert to succeed. You don’t need to mimic extroverts either. Learn from Jennifer’s extensive experience and adopt her practiced techniques that can make all the difference. Whether it’s dealing with an interrupting, extroverted boss or learning to lead a project team, you can tap the quiet strength inside.

 

“With the great problems our organizations face today, we are surely losing out by not tapping into more than half of our population and acknowledging the many gifts of introversion.” -Jennifer B. Kahnweiler

 

What are you seeing in the latest research regarding introverted leaders?

I have done my own research through speaking and coaching around the world. It has been enlightening to hear the dialogue about introverts and introverted leadership surface across many industries and organizations where there was bias.

Academic research still appears to be in its infancy, and the studies that I have seen often have very small samples. However, professor and author Adam Grant, Francesca Gino, and David A. Hoffman did research showing that introverted leaders make the best managers for extroverts because they listen. Another study found that introverts’ contributions are more appreciated because they exceed the low expectations of people who believe that introverts are withdrawn or may be too anxious to live up to their potential. I am seeing more studies about the brains of introverts getting published and am very pleased to see all of this activity happening.

 

“Please kindly go away, I’m introverting.” -Beth Buelow

 

Unique Challenges for Introverted Leaders

Would you share just one example of a challenge, or significant barrier, introverted leaders face?

An emphasis on teams is very draining for introverted leaders. When brainstorming happens in meetings and conference calls, the ideas of quieter contributors may never surface. Extroverts, who get their energy from connecting with others, tend to think aloud and thus will often be the first to offer ideas and populate the white board at meetings. It’s not unusual for them to interject themselves into discussions as new thoughts come to mind. Introverts, on the other hand, are more reflective by nature. They may get interrupted or be less likely to contribute thoughts in real time. Instead, they’re apt to come up with ideas on their own after the meeting is over.

 

“Introverts crave meaning so party chitchat feels like sandpaper to our psyche.” –Diane Cameron

 

4 P’s

What is the 4 P’s Process and how did you develop it?

The 4 P’s Process is an easy-to-remember road map that builds on research done with thousands of introverted leaders. The 4 steps are preparation, presence, push and practice,  and they can apply to almost any leadership scenario. Preparation is the first step and plays to the introverted leader’s sweet spot by doing what comes naturally. Presence, the second step, refers to being present in a way that allows you to be with people. You are not thinking of what you could have done differently or worrying about the future outcome. Push, the third step, puts you out of your comfort zone, and Practice, the fourth step, helps you to seize opportunities to practice new behaviors.

 

“You may think I’m small, but I have a universe inside my mind.” -Yoko Ono

 

How Introverts Master Meetings

Let’s talk about meetings because it comes up so often in the book and in conversations about introverted leaders. What tips do you give an introvert who says that she cannot get her thoughts out before the extrovert interrupts?

Keep in mind that extroverts typically don’t mind being interrupted because that is often their speech pattern. Extroverts are also usually unaware that they are dominating the conversation, until they are stopped.

She should try these assertive tools to handle extroverts:

1) Use a physical gesture like raising her palm to grab the interrupter’s attention

2) Say in a firm voice that she would like to finish her thoughts. Note: She might want to practice this aloud before her next meeting to get her game voice on.

3) Avoid smiling and nodding when they are interrupting her. That just encourages the person to keep talking.

3) Grab an ally before the meeting who can step in and tell the group they want to hear from you.

 

How to Manage Up

You have included a unique section in the book on “Managing Up.” Have you noticed this to be a particular need for introverts? What one takeaway would you share from this section?

Yes. Introverted leaders don’t typically initiate conversations with their managers. Because they often fly under the radar and aren’t the “squeaky wheel,” their accomplishments may get overlooked. This is one reason it is important for them to open up the communication channel with their managers. Another is to understand where they fit into their organization’s mission and vision, especially as roles and goals change.

One takeaway? Be willing to ask your boss for what you need including their style preferences in order to succeed. For instance, as an introvert, explain that you need time to prepare and that your boss will get better quality work out of you if you can prepare questions and points ahead of time. The more you share about yourself, the more they will be able to help you.

 

Misconceptions

You wrote the first edition to this book long before introversion was a popular topic. Are there any misconceptions that you find continue year after year?

I smile when I think about the articles I have been interviewed for about how introverts love, date, spend, money, plan weddings, etc. Though there is truth in these pieces, they also tend to make neat generalizations about introverts and extroverts. In actuality, we all have both introvert and extrovert qualities within us. Our behaviors are not as drastically different as these posts tend to position them.

There are still misconceptions about introverts: Introverts: can’t lead, are shy, aren’t good at public speaking and they don’t like people. And we often think introverts are bored or angry when they don’t show much on their faces.

Fortunately, with the “rise of the introverts,” we are seeing these stereotypes erode.

 

Misconceptions about introverts: can’t lead, are shy, aren’t good at public speaking and they don’t like people.

 

For more information, see The Introverted Leader.

 

“I am rarely bored alone; I am often bored in groups and crowds.” -Laurie Helgoe  

 

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3 Secrets to Cut Your Meeting Time in Half

Photo courtesy of iStockphoto/diego_cervo

Make Meetings More Effective

How many meetings do you find yourself in without a clear objective? Do you get stressed in the meeting knowing that the real work is building up while you are stuck? Does the meeting organizer fool anyone when he is unprepared?

 

“People who enjoy meetings should not be in charge of anything.”  –Thomas Sewell

 

Years ago, I was introduced to the concept of the “three P’s” at a Wilson Learning sales training seminar. It was introduced as an effective sales tool. Throughout the years, I have used the three P’s as a way to conduct effective meetings of any kind.  It isn’t just a sales technique.  It can be a way to save a lot of time and energy and focus the meeting on the objective.

 

“The least productive people are usually the ones who are most in favor of holding meetings.”  –Thomas Sewell

 

Use the 3P’s to Get More Done In Less Time

What are the three P’s?  Purpose.  Process.  Payoff.

How to Make Your Next Meeting the Most Effective Ever

Do I Have To Go?

In every corporation and social enterprise, we find ourselves in meetings.  We dread going to them.  We love to complain about them.  We poke ourselves to stay awake in them.

Have you ever thought about how important meetings really are?

Ever consider that how you behave in a meeting may have more of an impact on your career?

What if there was a way to turn meetings into “remarkable conversations”?

 

Paul Axtell’s new book,  Meetings Matter: 8 Powerful Strategies for Remarkable Conversations, was a surprise.  Why a surprise?  Because I admit I have groaned about too many meetings, so the thought of reading a book about them was supposed to be my cure for insomnia.  Instead, I found myself reading and re-reading it.  If your calendar has you stuck in too many ineffective meetings, you will find numerous solutions to changing the game in Paul’s new book.

Paul Axtell has been a personal effectiveness consultant and corporate trainer for 35 years.  All of that experience is put too good use in a book packed with advice to be more effective.  Note: this book goes far, far beyond the meeting.

 

“It took me fifteen years to make it look easy.” –Fred Astaire

 

Meetings Matter

Everyone loves to complain about meetings. Too many, too long, too boring. But your new book says meetings matter. Why are meetings such an easy target?

Meetings Matter CoverFirst, the complaints are usually justified.  Our time in ineffective meetings far outweighs our time in powerful meetings.  People are genuinely concerned about being more productive and taking less work home, so time not well spent is galling.  Finally, no one is standing up for the value and leverage that meetings can provide to a project or organization.  We’ve drifted into this place where we complain and don’t even hear ourselves complaining.  Poorly run meetings also start at the top, and from below it can seem like an impossible problem to confront. 

Paul, you raise the stakes to say, “Meetings are at the heart of an effective organization.”

Yes, if we include one-on-ones, meetings compromise most of a supervisor’s or manager’s day.  Meetings are a place and situation where clarity can be achieved, decisions made, alignment garnered and actions identified – all of which work to help forward the work of any organization.  Therefore, meeting skills are a core competency for employees.

 

“One of the most beautiful qualities of true friendship is to understand and to be understood.” –Seneca

 

Choose Your Perspective

Your new book outlines eight strategies for more effective meetings.  Let me ask about just a few.  Number one “Choose the perspective.”  It’s about being intentional, mindful, and catching yourself if you fall into negativity about a meeting.  Why is perspective the starting point?

I believe two things change behavior: perspective and awareness.  Perspective might be the more important of the two because with a disempowering perspective, strategies and tactics have less impact.  We’ve drifted into three perspectives that set us up for failure—meetings don’t matter, it’s not my meeting, and I don’t have to fully engage if I don’t want to.  Very difficult to run a good meeting when people walk in with these points of view.  Just imagine how it would be to lead a meeting where everyone walked in with an attitude that was shaped instead by these perspectives: meetings are leverage and I’m responsible for making this meeting turn out?

 

“It is indispensable to have a habit of observation and reflection.” –Abraham Lincoln

 

The 4 C’s of An Effective Conversation

The Dangers of Always Trying To Be Right At Work

In a previous post, I shared how the joy of being right can often be wrong.  Trying to be right at all costs comes at a surprisingly high price.

  • We waste time and energy.
  • We damage relationships.
  • We refuse to listen to the other side.
  • We cause others to stop sharing freely.
  • We stop listening as we develop arguments.

 

“Choose being kind over being right and you’ll be right every time.” –Richard Carlson

 

For all of those reasons and more, being right is not always worth the cost.

When you are right, what happens?  Others applaud your brilliance!  They nod to you as you pass them in the hall.  A gleaming trophy arrives for your new corner office, allowing everyone to know that you are “RIGHT.”

Ah, no. Not exactly.  Pretty much none of that happens.

It’s far better to allow others to be right.  Let little offenses pass.  Save the disagreements for the big things.

 

“Celebrating accomplishments is one of the fastest ways to change a culture.” -Skip Prichard

 

That’s my advice for individuals.  It happens in organizations, too.  When an entire organizational culture is centered on being “right,” what happens then?

You will find a culture:

With more meetings. Instead of having a conversation about an issue, everyone works hard to be correct.  That means that there are meetings to prepare for meetings to prepare for meetings.

With longer meetings.  Everyone needs time to share the “right” point of view.  Everyone needs the microphone to prove her point or to highlight his knowledge.  And we need time to point out the flaws in everyone else.

Pick the Low-Hanging Fruit to Improve Productivity


Many leaders are looking for the “big” program that will change the game.  They agonize over large scale change efforts, ways to reduce costs, and how to increase innovation within the firm.

What if the answer wasn’t identifying one large project but instead was small issues that employees already knew about?  If the employees had the courage and the power to act on them, what would happen?

It’s the same in business as it is in life.  The little things matter.  Add up the small changes and the daily disciplines and you have mapped the road to success.

 

“The important thing is not to stop questioning.” -Albert Einstein

 

Jeremy Eden and Terri Long are the Co-CEOs of Harvest Earnings, an advisory services firm. They have helped companies like Heinz, PNC Financial, Standard Register and The Schwan Food Company, Energy East, Webster Financial, and Standard Register to reduce costs and increase revenues. I recently had the opportunity to talk with them about their new book, Low-Hanging Fruit: 77 Eye-Opening Ways to Improve Productivity and Profits. 

This is one of the most practical and immediately actionable guides for business leaders that I have ever seen.

 

Embracing Change

 

You have listed numerous ways to make an organization more efficient, more productive, and more profitable.  When you consult with an organization, do managers readily embrace your ideas or do they resist?Low-Hanging Fruit

If we said to our clients’ employees, “Folks, here are 77 new behaviors you need to do now,” there would be mutiny!  So instead we build in the most important behaviors into a process that we provide called Idea Harvest™.  Most managers do readily embrace the process because they see that it is a way for them to get their ideas not only a hearing but a decision as well.  By going through an Idea Harvest™ managers just naturally adopt our ideas without anyone having to learn or accept 77 ways of behaving.  One of the most loved new behaviors is to use simple one-page summaries for most ideas and to stop creating big presentations.  Since most decisions in an Idea Harvest are simple (“low-hanging fruit”), no lives need to be wasted on creating elaborate PowerPoints.

 

“PowerPoint has consumed the best years of too many young lives.” -David Silverman

 

Another example is that an Idea Harvest uses many short deadlines.  Deadlines focus everyone on important activities and give them permission to ignore unimportant ones that might otherwise waste their time.  Some embrace this new behavior immediately because they see that it also means decisions will be made quickly.  Others don’t see how they can meet the short deadlines until they see how efficiently they can work following some of the other rules … which is a perfect segue to the next question!

lowhangingfruit_memes_rd2_10

Know When Good Enough is Enough

I love the concept of “gold plating.”  Would you explain it and give an example?

Gold plating, also known as “paving the cow paths” is an effort to make something better that is already good enough … and more specifically, spending time making that thing better does not grow profits.  The most prevalent example is the one we describe in Chapter 77 “Mom Should Have Said, Don’t Always Do Your Best.” Managers spend an incredible amount of time perfecting PowerPoints, memos, and emails when “good enough” would have saved time that could be spent on truly important activities.  Many bosses inadvertently encourage this behavior by pointing out meaningless typos or formatting issues in internal memos.  We worked with one client where the employees laughed when we said the senior team would review a one-page summary of their ideas.  They needed to hear directly from the CEO that he didn’t want a full blown presentation for every idea they were going to discuss!  We worked with another where the word went out to reprint hundreds of pages of team reports in bigger font after the CEO made an off-hand comment that the type size was small – luckily the CEO caught wind of this and told everyone he preferred using his reading glasses to wasting time and money!  One engineering department was designing equipment that would last 75 years even though with new technology that standard no longer made sense. “Gold plating” occurs in every large company and is seen as virtuous instead of the resource stealer that it is!

 

“A bad system will beat a good person every time.” -W. Edwards Deming

 

You talk about “embracing conflict” and that can require some serious culture change inside an organization.  How do you change the culture to accept healthy conflict?

Managers bemoan how hard it is to change a culture, but we have seen it happen practically overnight.  Think how quickly a culture can change when a company is bought and merged.  The top dog has culture change within his or her power (but like Dorothy who didn’t know she only needed to click her heels three times, they often don’t know it.)  Company executives who want their teams to embrace conflict must embrace it themselves.  Is there a decision that has lingered because two factions can’t agree on the right course of action?  Executives should adopt the mantra that “everyone is entitled to their own opinions but not their own facts” (courtesy of Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan).

 

“There seems to be some perverse human characteristic that likes to make easy things difficult.” -Warren Buffett

 

In practice, this means demanding facts before entertaining debate and discussion.  By making sure that everyone agrees on the facts, many conflicts will  be resolved.  In one company, the business line wanted a 24-hour call center because they “knew” that good customers called at all hours while the call center “knew” that staying open overnight was not worth it.  Together, they devised a simple data collection plan and determined that few good customers used the call center late at night.  Again working together, they found a way to form a skeletal staff to take care of the customers with 3am needs.  With common facts, a decade old conflict evaporated.  With facts, conflicts also lose much of their political edge that can turn decisions into power struggles.

lowhangingfruit_memes_rd2_2

One additional simple change can make a huge difference:  Get everyone involved in a decision in the room at the same time.  No serial meetings with differing points of view that the boss is left to figure out.  Ask the conflicting parties to present a single point of view on the issue and 95% of the time they will do it.

 

“There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.” -Peter Drucker

 

Making Meetings Effective

How do you make meetings more effective, less time consuming, and more impactful?