Why Introverts Make Great Leaders - In the Right Circumstances

When you look at the classic personality traits of a successful leader, they usually jibe with those of an extrovert: vocal, outgoing, smooth. The Harvard Business School works very hard at turning reticent students into outgoing students. These outgoing students graduate, step into roles as leaders and, in certain situations, fail or perform less well than their introverted counterparts do. Why is that?

Wharton Management professor Adam Grant wondered the same thing. He partnered with professor Francesca Gino of Harvard Business School and David Hofmann of the Kenan-Flagler Business School to perform two studies addressing this question.

The First Study

The first study analyzed data from one of the biggest pizza chains in the United States. They discovered the profits of stores run by extroverts were 16% higher than those run by introverts, but only when the store teams were passive and exercised their roles without initiative. In cases where the store employees were active in their efforts to improve processes or performance, the exact opposite was true - introverted leaders' store profits were 14% higher than the extroverts.

The Second Study

Grant's team divided 163 college students into competing teams who had to fold as many t-shirts as possible in 10 minutes. Undercover in each team were two actors: on some teams, the actors were passive and on some they worked together to suggest an improvement to the folding technique to the leader.

Again, in cases where the team members were active, the introverted leader's team performed better. The introvert leader was 20% more likely to take the suggestion, and their teams had 24% better results than the extroverted leaders'. When the teams were passive, those led by extroverts did 22% better than those led by introverts.

The Conclusion

Introverts are uniquely capable of taking advantage of proactive teams. Their inclination to listen to others and not take charge of social situations puts them in the situation to better hear and implement suggestions. Once they have benefited from the talents of their teams, they are more likely to motivate a proactive approach. This creates a continual cycle of proactivity.

So...look at your team. Are they active or passive? My experience in the business world and the world in general, is that we have created a culture that celebrates extroverts. Who leads extroverts better? Introverts, it would seem. Though this line of study is still in its infancy, it may yet prove the value of introverts in a management capacity, and change the thinking of corporate America.

If this topic is of particular interest to you, you might try picking up a copy of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain.


Four Steps to Diffusing Team Conflict

It's common for organizations today to work in teams and it's natural, when you bring individuals of varying backgrounds, goals and opinions together, for those teams to experience conflict. There are two types of conflict: dysfunctional and functional. Most people see conflict as dysfunctional and something to avoid, but really, what kind of conflict you have depends on how you handle it. I like to look on conflict as an opportunity for increased productivity, greater innovation, maximized performance, and team strengthening.

There are several steps you can take to diffuse team conflict, which will result in stronger relationships and team performance.

  1. Set the Stage

    Find a neutral location for the affected individuals to meet. I often include all members of the team when it's small because I have found there is usually spillover to the team members not directly involved with the conflict, which means they have a stake in the resolution. Also, be sure the individuals in conflict want to resolve their differences. It doesn't do anyone any good to go to all this effort if one of the parties has no interest in finding a solution. You may also want to set down some guidelines for the interactions as conflict resolution can become heated. If you don't set down any other guidelines, ensure that all parties understand that they must respect one another and the opinions voiced.

  2. Explore the Conflict

    Have each team member express his or her views on the situation. This serves dual purposes – it gets the feelings and concerns out in the open and it weakens the force of emotions behind the conflict. This allows the team members to begin to actually hear and consider what their co-workers are saying, rather than being distracted by the emotion behind the words.

  3. Generate Solution Options

    Have the team members brainstorm ideas for how to solve the conflict or reach a point of compromise. Remind them that this resolution must focus not only on the individuals involved but also be relative to the team goals and objectives. Also, keep them focused. Don't let the team members devolve into the blame game. Keep them looking forward and planning for their success. You may find several solutions offered, or only one, but either way you must get all involved parties to agree on a single best solution. Discuss the pros and cons and get everyone's buy-in. Remember, you can't make everyone happy all of the time, but you can at least get everyone to agree, although it may be begrudgingly.

  4. Implement the Solution

    Put the solution into place. This isn't the end, though. You need to evaluate the solution and ensure it's achieving the desired outcome. If it is – celebrate! If it's not, you get to call your team together, go back to step 3, and discuss the the selected solution isn't working and choose a new option.

Of course, the steps discussed here are for a long-term solution. You may be in a situation where you need to slap a bandaid on the problem until you have time to deal with it more effectively. If that's the case, I have a few thoughts on that as well.

The Quick Fixes

Acting – Simply tell the team what the solution will be and get on with the project. This is a very authoritarian approach and should only be used in times of emergency and high emotion when almost any decision will be unpopular. Remember to consider the fallout and deliver the resolution with complete confidence.

Compromising – This often involves an objective third party who hears all sides of the conflict then offers a solution that is an effective compromise. This works best when the issue is complex and a quick temporary solution is needed.

Accommodating – Sometimes one of the parties is right or has more at stake than the other or others. In that case you need to get the other individuals to see the first's point of view and convince them the appropriate thing to do is give in. This requires sacrifice, but it will be rewarded in the long run.

Avoiding – Sometimes an issue simply isn't that important, is only a symptom of a larger issue or will take care of itself over time. In that case, it's a safe option to just leave it alone, but explain to your team what you're doing and, if you plan to address it in the future, when you'll deal with the larger issue. The key decision-making factor here is to ask yourself, "What's the worst thing that will happen if I do nothing?"

Wrapping It Up

Differences cause negative emotions, which in turn, negatively affect workplace productivity. The key to defusing conflicts is open communication delivered with respect and honesty. Differences should be addressed as quickly as possible because the chasm will only widen with time. By acting quickly, you will have a lesser conflict and smaller differences to resolve. This means you can get back to the business of meeting the team and company goals more quickly.

For more information on managing team conflict please see the following links:

Resolving Team Conflict - Mind Tools
Resolve Team Conflict in the Workplace: Free Conflict Resolution Guide - Dale Carnegie
Effectively Managing Team Conflict - Global Knowledge


Why People Follow

We spend a lot of time analyzing what makes someone a good leader. If you ask what the characteristics are, you'll get numerous answers: vision, charisma, knowledge, etc. We focus on what makes leaders great, but fail to take into consideration why people follow them. I ran across some numbers from Gallup Polls conducted from 2005-2008 which focused on why people follow. Contrary to what you would expect, based on experts' research into people historically considered leaders, many of the defined characteristics never even registered for the followers. When asked what they needed from the leaders in their lives, these followers stated the following four characteristics: trust, compassion, stability and hope.

Trust - Your Word is Your Bond

If we look back on presidents, CEOs, and other leaders of any level, many times what brought them down was a breach of trust. It may have brought down just the person, or the entire organization. Gallup's research shows that trust is the basis for employee engagement. Just 1 in 12 people will be engaged at work if they don't trust leadership; in contrast, 1 in 2 will be engaged if they DO trust leadership.

Trust also increases speed and efficiency at work. It skips over the formality and allows a team to get on with the work. If there is no trust, then you have to start at ground zero every time. Gallup's research shows that teams that are struggling often spend a disproportionate amount of time discussing trust, while successful teams never talk about it at all. Best Buy's Brad Anderson said that "trust is the most cherished and valuable commodity in a work environment." Relationships will trump competence in building trust every time.

Compassion – The Organization Must Have a Heart for People to Love It

Gallup found that people actually expect two different types of compassion, based on the role the leader has in their lives. They expect a global or organizational leader to have more positive energy output or "compassion" in an impersonal way, whereas they expect those who have daily influence in their lives to be "caring" on a more intimate level.

People who believe someone at work cares about them:

  • Are significantly more likely to stay with an organization
  • Have more engaged customers
  • Are substantially more productive
  • Produce more profitability for the organization
Standard Chartered's Mervyn Davies is a perfect example of this. He implemented several organizational-wide programs aimed at improving his employees' mental and physical well-being, and on a personal level encouraged his direct reports to put their families first. In return, he shared personal struggles he was having. Compassion, as are all four characteristics, is more effective in a give and take scenario.

Stability – The Key to Rapid Growth

Followers want someone they believe will provide a solid foundation for them, both financially and in their core values. People sometimes equate stability with lack of change but that's not accurate. You can completely renovate a building without ever touching the foundation upon which it rests. The same is true of an organization. At the most basic level, employees want to be assured of an income. An organization can change or evolve constantly as long as employees are sure they'll have a job to go to and a paycheck at the end of the day. According to the Gallup report, employees who are secure about their organization's financial future are nine times more likely to be engaged at work than those who have no faith.

One key element of stability is transparency. We hear this word all the time without ever considering the impact it has on an organization. Followers need to know where their career is headed and how the company is doing. One organization I worked with had a corporate meeting at the beginning of every year. In it, they discussed metrics ranging from a division's profitability to the goals for the upcoming year. If an employee didn't want to wait until the meetings, they were free to ask questions at any time. This was a key element in the stability and growth of the company.

Hope – If You Aren't Looking Forward, Chances Are No One Else Is Either

Creating hope appears to be the single most important thing leaders can do to engage their employees at work. Gallup's study showed that 69% of employees who were enthusiastic about the future of their company were engaged at work while only 1% of those who were not enthusiastic were engaged. You would think, based on this, that leaders would focus on creating hope for the future, but they don't. They focus on reacting to the demands of the day.

Leaders who react create a poor image for their followers. They give the impression of being out of control and unable to take charge. Leaders who initiate, on the other hand, create a feeling of power and eliminate the feeling of helplessness that often accompanies reactionary responses. Initiating is not an easy habit to put into place. Company cultures more often reward those who create solutions for what needs to be done rather than creating plans for what could be done.

It's also easier to be reactionary. You can set up small goals like meeting your daily sales budget or getting on your daily conference call on time rather than creating larger goals like creating a new product or proposing a market expansion plan. Becoming an initiator is one of the hardest habits to create. It's a lot of work; but it is also one of the most valuable efforts you can undertake to create organizational growth and hope.


Failure is the Path to Success

Typically my blog entries are focused on marketing, but the idea of failure has been weighing heavily on me lately. Every time I turn around, it seems, there is some new quote about failure making an appearance. It came up not too long ago in the copy of “The Happiness Project” I’m reading. One of the tweeters I follow, @AllisonMaslon, posted something about failure. All these messages keep talking about how failure is the road to success. Two of the messages that resonated with me particularly are:

  • Courage is realizing that each failure merely brings you that one step closer to eventual success.
  • If you aren’t failing, you aren’t trying hard enough.

I read these and yet I can’t forget that in today’s culture failure carries a negative connotation – but primarily only with adults. Children are permitted failure, and the message given to them is clearly “Failure is expected and will lead to success.” As with every generality, there are exceptions: the abused child or the child expected to live up to someone else’s expectations, but we must remember – these are exceptions.

Think back to when you were small and learning something new. One of my experiences was learning to hit a baseball. I missed and missed and missed and yet there was always an adult there encouraging me with phrases like “No one gets it right the first time” or “Don’t worry, you’ll hit it the next time” or “Keep trying, everyone fails at first”. My dad, to paraphrase him, gave new meaning to the phrase “It’s not how many times you fall down that matters; it’s how many times you get up” when learning to ride a bicycle. The message is very clear – and the complete antithesis to the message delivered to adults in today’s culture. It is truer, I think, in the work environment than elsewhere.

When was the last time you made a mistake at work undertaking a new task and someone said, “I know this is the first time you’ve tried this, so just give it another go”? It’s more likely you walked away wondering what sort of negative impact your failure had on your boss’s perception of you. You may even have been reprimanded in some way for failing to get the new task right the first time.

As a general rule, people hustle and hustle and keep their heads down, hoping to just get by. Standing out is dangerous. Fear of failure is the stuff of mediocrity and an organization that implements a culture of fear is slitting its own throat. Empowerment to fail is the hallmark of a nonthreatening environment and an environment that recognizes the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

I see this type of activity every day and I wonder how anything new is ever innovated in corporate environments. Entrepreneurial environments are completely different animals. You can’t compare the two. It’s a rare corporate environment that doesn’t have processes in place designed, intentionally or unintentionally, to keep people from proposing and implementing new ideas, processes or strategies.

If we return to the process of our childhood when failures were accepted and encouraged as something to get past, rather than something to be reprimanded for, how much more improvement and innovation would there be in companies? Suddenly the person who steps up and makes a suggestion for improvement is rewarded, even if the idea isn’t initially successful or practical for implementation. Even in that failure, that person has been a success because perhaps that person inspired the next person to step up and his/her idea IS successful and saves the company time or money.

Or how about looking at the reason for the failure? It is our nature to focus on weaknesses rather than strengths. We traditionally seek to compensate for perceived weaknesses rather than learning to excel using our strengths. Perhaps the failure is the result of a person with a talent for strategy and seeing the forest rather than the trees having found him/herself in a position where the need is for details and seeing the trees rather than the forest. Move that person to the right position and suddenly excellence and success is the norm for that person.

The road to success IS paved by failure, in many shapes and forms. Though society would like to enforce its definitions upon each individual, we need to remember that they are personal definitions and individual benchmarks. One person’s failure may be another’s success.

If you want to be a success, it takes courage – be willing to step up and fail.


Creating Resonance Through Leadership Style

If you remember, in the post entitled Effective Leadership and Emotional Intelligence I promised to discuss leadership styles in my next post, but then skipped them in favor of 2012 marketing trends. This is that promised post.

There are, according to Daniel Goleman, six leadership styles and all are effective - when used at the appropriate times; however the overall impact on the situation can be seen as positive, negative, or neutral, depending on the when and where of use. That is key to effective leadership - knowing when to use a particular style in order to create resonance. This means the leader is in tune with other peoples' feelings and can use that knowledge to move them in a positive emotional direction. Truly skillful leaders are able to switch swiftly between leadership styles as the situation demands. Below is a summary of the six styles with their accompanying information from Daniel Goleman's Harvard Business Review Article, "Leadership That Gets Results".

StyleThe Leader's MOStyle PhraseDriveStyle TimingClimate Impact
VisionaryMobilizes people toward a vision“Come with me.”Self-confidence,
empathy, change
When changes require a new vision, or when a clear direction is neededMost strongly positive
AffiliativeCreates harmony and builds emotional bonds"People come first."Empathy, building
relationships, communication
To heal rifts in a
team or to motivate people during stressful circumstances
DemocraticForges consensus through participation"What do you think?"Collaboration,
team leadership,
To build buy-in or consensus, or to get input from valuable
CoachingDevelops people for the future"Try this."Developing
others, empathy,
To help an employee
improve performance or
develop long-term strengths
PacesettingSets high standards for performance"Do as I do, now."Conscientiousness,
drive to achieve,
To get quick results form a highly motivated and competent teamNegative
“Do what I tell you.”Drive to achieve,
initiative, self-control
In a crisis, to kick start a
turnaround, or with problem employees

The more leadership styles you are able to master, the more effective a leader you will be. It's not easy to master multiple styles. Sometimes it means unlearning old habits, especially for "old school" leaders who habitually fall back on Pacesetting and Commanding styles, which negatively affect the work environment. It takes practice and perseverance. Everyone knows it is much more difficult to unlearn an old habit than it is to put a new one in place. But, like Pavlov's dog, the more often you repeat a cause and effect scenario, the more ingrained the response will become and the more likely it is you will have a positive leadership response to a difficult situation.


Effective Leadership and Emotional Intelligence

I've been doing a lot of thinking about leadership lately, and what makes a good leader. I've been in design industry a long time, 19 years, and most of it has included some aspect of marketing, though that didn't become my focus until about 13 years ago. I've worked with, and under, a lot of people in positions of leadership during that time, both creative types and business types. You notice that I say "people in positions of leadership" not "leaders." There is a big difference. Someone can have worked their way into a leadership position without being a good leader, and I don't necessarily see evidence that the business person is a better leader than the creative person, though that's the stereotype.

I have a good amount of experience as a leader, having led a lot of virtual, ad hoc, and traditional cross-functional teams, and I also have a lot of education in that field, as well as having created some leadership training programs. Does that experience and education make me a leader? Sure. I like to hope I'm a good leader, but is that a result of only those two elements? I don't think so. My belief is that emotional intelligence (EQ/EI) is the sine qua non of leadership and there is a direct correlation between EQ/EI and measurable business results. Daniel Goleman coined the term back in 1995 when he published his book of the same name and I've been following him ever since. His most recent publication on leadership, if you're interested, is Leadership: The Power of Emotional Intelligence. According to Goleman there are five components of emotional intelligence and therefore of effective leadership.

Components of Emotional Intelligence

Self-Awareness» The ability to recognize and understand your moods, emotions and drives and how they effect others» Self-confidence
» Realistic self-assessment
» Self-deprecating sense of humor
Regulation» The ability to control or redirect disruptive impulses and moods
» The predilection to think before acting
» Trustworthiness and integrity
» Comfort with ambiguity
» Openness to change
Motivation»A passion to work for reasons other than money or status
»A predilection to energetically and persistently pursue goals
»Strong drive to achieve
»Eternal optimism
»Organizational commitment
Empathy» Able to understand the emotions of other people
» Able to treat people based on their emotional reactions
» Expertise in building and retaining talent
» Cross-cultural sensitivity
» Service to clients, both internal and external
Social Skills» Proficient in building relationships and networks
» Ability to find common ground and achieve rapport
» Effective in leading change
» Persuasive
» Expertise in building and leading teams

All that said, there is much more to it than this, but these are the basics of emotional intelligence. Effective leaders use this, in conjunction with one or more leadership styles (Coercive, Authoritative, Affiliative, Democratic, Pacesetting, and Coaching) to motivate and lead their teams to success. I'll go into those leadership styles in my next post, but if you don't want to wait, ChangingMinds.org has a basic description on their site.

I'd also like to add one element that is very important to me, and one that I see missing a lot: Show respect. Show respect to your supervisors, co-workers, and reports. Show it to your customers/clients. Show it whether they can hear you or not; whether they're in good standing or not. It doesn't do anyone any good to hear their boss stomping around the office berating a customer because they're late on a payment or speaking patronizingly to a direct report. In the workplace, there is always someone who is aware.