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Why introverts should put on a game face to effectively lead

By Karl Moore

This is Karl Moore of the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University. Today I would like to share with you some things about how we should put on our game face as an introvert and act like an extrovert at times, and as an extrovert act like a introvert at time.

The academic literature on leadership suggests that almost all leaders are extroverts, but according to the senior executives I have interviewed this is a very much out of date view. I was in Silicon Valley recently doing interviews at Google and other high-tech firms. At those firms the percentage of leaders who are introverts is very considerably higher. One of the CEO’s that came to my CEO Insights class at McGill for the MBA’s last year talked about how he was an introvert, and how as he left his floor in his building – a big company of over 20,000 employees – he put on his game face and would act like an extrovert. He actually had a coach early on in his career when he was not that high up, an executive but not the CEO, where the coach would encourage him to take a clicker and just talk to people. When he got on the elevator he would say good morning, how was your weekend, and things like that so that people would not say to themselves, ‘Oh, he’s angry at me,” or “he’s upset at me,” but just recognize that people might misinterpret a senior executive that doesn’t talk to them. As an extrovert I need to put on my game face as well, which seems only fair. So my friend who is an introvert needs to act like an extrovert, at times I need to put on my game face and act like an introvert to be a more effective leader. So let me give you three examples of that.

One is I have learned, hopefully although some might argue with this, to become a better listener, which is something introverts are particularly good at. So I have got to spend more time to think about hey let me listen instead of just talking all the time, which is easy for an extrovert to do it seems. Secondly, I have learned to listen to peoples ideas and not push them to quickly give me ideas. I sometimes go down to one of my colleagues and talk to her for half an hour and at the end of it I’ll say, “Thanks Dora, that was very useful.” Once in a while she will smile and say, “But Karl, I didn’t say anything.” And we both laugh because there are some elements of truth to that, but I need to run ideas by people. I have some dumb idea’s and a few good ones, but that process, as an extrovert, is important for me. So I have learned to give people time rather than rush into things, which is my tendency. Third, sharing the spotlight. It is something, particularly as I get older and more senior, I need to learn to share the spotlight with the research associates. I have to not hog it but to put it on them because that’s exactly the right thing to do as a leader.

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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