How introverts can successfully manage extroverts

As introverts have become an increasing part of the leadership conversation we are becoming more aware of the strong presence of introverts in the management suite. But the vast majority of the leadership literature seems to be written to and for extroverted managers. In this article I want to talk about a key way that introverted managers can be better managers for their extroverted employees.

In our research, which consistws of interviews of over 150 CEOs, north of 30 per cent of senior executives are introverts. Among middle and first-line managers, the levels are closer to 50 per cent. How our introverts manage has a very considerable impact on how effective our organizations can be.

Listening well is seen as one of the traditional strengths of introverts and compared to extroverts, this is true. Introverts are much more apt to listen and think before jumping in with their thoughts. But our research suggests that this strength of listening can be improved by adding some nuance to how introverts listen to extroverts in particular.

At the heart of what I am saying is that extroverts like and need a greater emotional engagement from listeners when they talk. Whether it is when we are telling a story, presenting slides in a corporate board room or putting forward a new idea in a meeting, an introvert needs to respond to our extroverted energy to be an excellent listener.

Although introverts are very capable listeners, they tend toward what extroverts identify as passive listening. As an extrovert gets excited, all wound up with what they are talking about, they seek active listening. When a listener sits there, like a “bump on a log,” as we extroverts would put it, not responding, not feeding our energy back to us, we feel frustrated and assume you are rejecting our ideas and us. You are thinking about and analysing what we are saying, which is great. But if you want to be a better boss, be a more active listener by turning up the volume of your listening. Act a bit like an extrovert, not too much, but a bit.

When a fellow extrovert listens to me, they nod, they lean forward, they smile or frown, they may not agree but they are more fully engaged. Surely you have colleagues that act like this, and at times you may feel like they are overdoing it. For you, they likely are. But we extroverts feed off the energy of an engaged audience, this sparks our energy and allows to perform at our best. Not only is our energy and enthusiasm contagious, we, in our better moments can be inspiring. This quality is needed in our organizations, along with the introverted leaders who bring greater thought, analysis and insights in their better moments.

Beyond extroverts’ abundant energy, this personality type can be highly creative, although in a different way than their introverted counterparts. Extroverts are often at their most creative when we are talking out our ideas with others. When I want to be creative I am more apt to go see a colleague and “kick around” some thoughts with them. Often many not so great ideas emerge, but a few excellent ones also come out of this process.

The takeaway message is this: to be a better manager, introverts please build on one of your greatest strengths by learning to be more active, engaged listeners. Your extroverted colleagues will thank you.

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.

Originally published on The Globe and Mail.

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