Introverts can make great networkers—that’s what really came home to me last night. Rather than acting like my usual extroverted self at a group gathering, I thought I should network half the time like an introvert, and it worked like a charm!
A friend of mine, Claude Mongeau, feels bound to behave as an extrovert because he is the CEO of CN, a railroad company with about 24,000 people. He enjoys quiet and solitude in his office, but when he leaves his floor, he puts on his “game face” and acts like an extrovert. In the same way, I am learning to act like an introvert from time to time in order to be a better leader. I’m not being inauthentic; instead, I’m being flexible and learning to listen.
I teach at McGill University, where I attended an alumni event last night. Over a hundred alumni of our business school gathered for drinks and canapés. I had taught about 20 percent of the alumni, so I felt I had to network like an extrovert. You know the type. Going from group to group, spending a few minutes with everyone, hugging people or kissing them (this is Montreal, after all!) and laughing with them.
This is my natural style, so I dove right in. And it can be effective: in our better moments, extroverts, like myself, charm people. Everyone likes us, but often, we are saying nothing of substance. We just don’t have time because we need to move on to make sure we talk to everyone in order to remain stimulated. Given the number of former students I had in the room, this was a good move. But being in the midst of a research project on quiet leaders and introverts in executive roles, I was wondering what it would be like to network like an introvert.
“Why not give it a try?” I asked myself.
For the first half of the evening, I did my traditional—more extroverted—form of networking. But for the second half, I put on my “game face” and acted like an introvert. In practical terms, I spent considerably longer than normal, 15-20 minutes, with three people. Two were former students who had just left a leading consulting firm and were working together to develop leadership programs—something I do as well. The other person with whom I connected was an operations person who also was striking out on his own doing consulting, and again, we found opportunities to collaborate.
In the past, I most likely would have spent a few minutes with them but then pushed on, thereby missing the opportunities that presented themselves only because I made the conscious decision to act like an introvert and spend more quality time with a few people. This was partly strategic: I chose the people based on whether I thought both parties would want to deepen the relationship, and it paid off.
Have you ever pushed yourself beyond your comfort zone to accomplish a goal?
An expert in CEO and C-Suite leadership, Karl is an Associate Professor at the Desautels Faculty of Management McGill University and an Associate Fellow at Green Templeton College. His current research looks at Introvert/Ambivert/Extrovert Leaders in the C-Suite. His other current research is on leading millennials; his book Leading, Managing, Working with Millennials will be out in 2017. He spent 11 years with IBM and Hitachi before doing his Ph.D. He works closely with his colleague Henry Mintzberg.