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Introverted Leaders are Primed to Lead Millennials

introverted leaders millennialsRyan Jenkins, is an internationally recognized Millennial and Generation Z keynote speaker, generations expert, and columnist. This post is adapted from his new book, The Millennial Manual: The Complete How-To Guide to Manage, Develop, and Engage Millennials at Work

Ryan offers some great suggestions here for instilling a strong work ethic in Millennials. Introverted leaders, who take the time to listen, coach and build relationships of depth with their teams and customers are uniquely poised to get the best out of their younger workforce.

Employers pursue it, leaders exude it, fulfillment is derived from it, customers expect it, success depends on it, and career progression is the result of it…what is it?

A strong work ethic.

Eric Chester, the author of Reviving Work Ethic: A Leader’s Guide to Ending Entitlement and Restoring Pride in the Emerging Workforce, describes work ethic as, “positive, enthusiastic people who show up for work on time, who are dressed and prepared properly, who go out of their way to add value and do more than what’s required of them, who are honest, who will play by the rules, and who will give cheerful, friendly service regardless of the situation.”

Workers who view the work they do—fun or not fun, menial or noble—as a critical part of the bigger picture and execute the work with excellence, derive higher levels of satisfaction from their work, unlock more opportunities, and become more promote-able than those content with the minimum effort required.


With those type of benefits, why wouldn’t someone want to cultivate a strong work ethic?


Work ethic is a value based on hard work and diligence. It’s the principle that hard work is intrinsically virtuous or worthy of reward. In other words, work ethic is not something we are born with, it’s a learned behavior.


Work ethic is part of an individual’s personal values and much like a company’s corporate values, they must be taught and modeled daily.


Previous generations have defined success at work by time and tenure, but Millennials measure it by the impact. Millennials ask themselves, “What’s the biggest impact I can make with the limited time that I have?” This mindset is often interpreted by managers as “lazy” because it clashes with previous generations view of what hard work is and should be. (Here is an article that explores this topic further.)


We must be careful when comparing a new generation of workers with previous generations when the way in which we work has changed so significantly over the generations.

Here are a few actions that can help instill a strong work ethic into Millennials…

  • Clearly communicate the expected work ethic. Too many managers make assumptions that Millennials ought to know the expected work ethic. Stop assuming and tell them.
  • Demonstrate the right work ethic daily. Not being innovative and working smart or not having a healthy work-life balance may deter Millennials from following your example.
  • Create channels for work ethic. Ensure Millennials are equipped and have access to innovative tools where they can put their unique skill sets to work.
  • Connect work ethic values to the big picture. The job of a leader is to paint a picture of the preferred future. Help Millennials connect their actions to the bigger picture.

Because of the shifting landscape of work and Millennials varied approach to work, one of the greatest challenges when instilling work ethic into Millennials is defining a baseline for strong work ethic. The best way to overcome this is…


Let the customer define the work ethic.


The behaviors that Millennial employees need to demonstrate should be defined by the needs of the customers or clients.

If customers need…

  • Reliability – then employees must be available or deliver products/services when or where customers need them.
  • Quality – then employees must do everything in their power to produce high-quality products or service.
  • Honesty – then employees must display integrity in their actions and in every interaction.
  • Professionalism – then employees must dress, act, and prepare like professionals.
  • Positivity – then employees must commit to serving the customer with positivity, friendliness, and enthusiasm.
  • Delighting – then employees must find ways to go the extra mile.
  • Promptness – then employees must be timely in their responses, attendance, and deliverables.
  • Expertise – then employees must demonstrate authority or a willingness to learn.
  • Respect – then employees must be poised, diplomatic, and display grace under pressure.
  • Determination – then employees must embrace challenges and focus on solving the customer’s problem.

It’s the responsibility of the leader to understand what the customer or client needs and to clearly and consistently communicate the work ethic needed to satisfy those needs to their Millennial employees. Once the customer-defined work ethic has been established, give space to Millennial employees to see how they take ownership and execute the newly formed values.

As your customers evolve, so will the work ethic needed to create the best results for customers.



Can introverted leaders be assertive?




Mary Barra is the CEO of General Motors. As a young engineer, she confronted an assembly worker who directed a wolf whistle in her direction. “What are you doing?” she asked. He was trying to attract her attention, he told her. She requested that in the future he do that by saying “Hi.” This simple yet assertive statement resulted in more respectful greetings from him, and according to Barra, the catcalls from other men in the plant diminished. Being an introvert, as Mary Barra is, shouldn’t limit your ability to assert yourself. In fact, introversion and assertiveness are a perfect combination.

What assertiveness looks like 

Assertiveness is often incorrectly confused with aggressiveness, but assertiveness is characterized by mutual respect and clear, open, and honest communication. Aggressive behavior, on the other hand, is disrespectful and shuts people down. Introverts show us that you don’t have to yell to get what you want.

In my research on genius opposite pairs of workplace introverts and extroverts, the introvert’s steady, intentional, persistence often made the difference in their success. On one sales team, introverted Brian stood in the back of the room, quietly checking in with prospects and responding to their questions. His louder, extroverted teammate, Audrey, made an exuberant pitch from the stage. Brian was assertive by following up with his key target customers for months and, in some cases, years. He closed most of the deals with his persistence and follow through.

In a more well-known example, Rosa Parks, a 42-year-old seamstress and civil rights hero, exhibited true assertiveness when she made the decision to go against the law and sit in the white section of the bus in Montgomery, AL. Her quiet courage led to a widespread bus boycott that ultimately struck down the segregation laws on buses throughout the land.

Introvert Daryl Hall of the musical pair Hall and Oates  referring to his low-key role in the popular duo acknowledged his brand of assertiveness and the important role he plays by saying “You can’t have a sunset without the horizon.”

Create boundaries

Many introverted clients complain about working long hours and are not sure how to push back on their workload. How do you set boundaries so you can have more control over your work and your life? Consider these examples:

The boss wants you to work late for the third time this week. It could be time to say, “No, I can’t, because I have commitments at home.” As mentioned in the earlier example, let’s say you believe you deserve a raise. You persist in following up with your “ask,” even when turned down the previous quarter. When someone takes credit for your work on a project, you can be assertive and tell your team that it was your original design.

There are countless opportunities to speak up for yourself. Introverts like GM’s CEO Barra have pushed themselves and developed their skills in this area by practicing and pushing themselves to speak up. It is not always easy. Figure out when it is important to set boundaries and find ways to express yourself that are respectful, yet firm.

Set the stage for others to assert themselves 

As a leader, assertiveness can also be a way to advocate for employees. Melinda Gates, the co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, makes a point of speaking up in support of female colleagues “when a man restates something that a woman already said or talks over her at a meeting.” And she calls herself out when she falls into that behavior herself.

You can also support introverts on your team when they don’t feel comfortable asserting themselves. Bill Stainton, a professional speaker, and Emmy award-winner was chairing a professional board. He tells the story of failing to ask Lucy, an introverted board member, more about her background and skills. After she finished her board term, he discovered she had a goldmine of expertise in an area that would have been helpful in growing their organization. Bill considered it a large, missed opportunity. After that experience, he has made it a point to learn more about the strengths of the people he is working with, especially when they don’t freely self-disclose that information.

So by understanding what assertiveness vs. aggressiveness looks like, turning to other introverted leaders for examples and setting the stage for introverts on your team to be heard, you can act assertively in the way that works for you and get results.

Collaboration drives open spaces for introverts


One of the best things about going on the road to give speeches (aside from sampling the local cuisine) is to see how workplaces are evolving. Last week I had the honor of delivering a keynote to the folks at the American Chemical Society and their Chemical Abstracts Service. CAS, as it is known, “is made up of scientists who collect, and organize all publicly disclosed substance information creating the world’s most valuable collection of content that is vital to innovation worldwide.”

After lunch, I was taken on a tour of the Columbus, OH facility and heard the story of how they are transforming much of their building to meet the demands of a new work flow.  The software developers in the IT area, for instance, have adopted Agile as the way they perform work and this lends itself to ongoing discussions and connection throughout the day. In the “before” photo at the top of this post, you can see how many of the offices were set up in what they call “submarine hallways.”

Joe Sjostrom, Director, Product Technology, and Operations at CAS is an astute introverted leader who shared his experience in this transition from offices to open space. At first, he was very skeptical, but now says he would never go back to the old ways. In fact, his office sits smack dab in the middle of the open space, near the feeding bowl for the cat. Yes – there is a company cat who hangs out with everyone.

Joe explained why he thinks introverts thrive in this new open workspace, contrary to what you might expect; that they would hole up away from people.

“I’m really glad you got the opportunity to see our new work space” he wrote me in a follow-up email,  Regarding introverts and work environment, I’m sure many would balk at a statement that “open spaces are good for introverts”. The key issue is that the work of software application development has changed from what used to be a mostly solo activity to what is now a highly collaborative activity.”

Joe continued, “So the work environment has necessarily evolved, and the (surprising/counter-intuitive) discovery is that software engineers (in general, a highly introverted population) are actually able to adapt in a very positive way to this new environment. As I see it, we introverts don’t actually “change”, there is still a strong bias for some element of isolation.  But my experience has been that the human mind is actually much more highly adaptable and without actually being physically isolated, the open environment can be well-tolerated – and the overall team productivity is *greatly* enhanced. As I mentioned, I can hardly comprehend how we ever got work done in the “submarine hallway” days!” See the photo of the offices Joe refers to at the top of this piece.

But my experience has been that the human mind is actually much more highly adaptable and without actually being physically isolated, the open environment can be well-tolerated – and the overall team productivity is *greatly* enhanced.

Joe also told me that most team members learn to tune out extraneous conversations but will chime in when they think they can contribute. He also said that the headphones they ordered were not used.

The wave of the future is connection and collaboration. And while having spaces and places for breaks can help, the bottom line is that more work is getting done in this open space. In fact, the marketing director told me her work area is removing offices and creating a new open space environment to support the new Agile work processes they are implementing.

There might be a reason to keep a few old offices that offer privacy and quiet. A few of the editors and proof readers said they LOVE those submarine like spaces with doors because they can concentrate. So maybe some work functions won’t ever find it necessary to change. In this collaborative software development department, though, they are have gone “all in” and are not looking back. The results are speaking for themselves.






How Introverted CEOs Make A Powerful Impact

How CEOs Can Use Introvert Strengths to Get ResultsA business leader need not act like Indiana’s Bobby Knight to be the ultimate influencer, communicate his vision and inspire people to get on board. In fact, the opposite may be true. Often introverted leaders exercise their quiet influence in ways that prompt new ways of thinking, challenge the status quo and inspire others to move forward. Here’s how some CEOs have borrowed from the introvert’s playbook to elevate their effectiveness.

There are many ways one can be effective as a leader. Smart CEOs know that they are most transparent and trustworthy when they lead from their own natural strengths. For introverts, those strengths may be quieter, more measured and less obvious, but they will be no less effective. Contrary to popular opinion, it’s not always the loudest voice in the room that gets results.

Doug Conant, former president and CEO of Campbell Soup Company and CEO, Conant Leadership, builds trust and open communication with his teams by being honest about his own way of getting things done. He uses two strengths common to introverted leaders – preparation and focused conversations. “I came out of the closet in my beliefs…I have this belief that it’s very important for a leader, particularly an introvert, to declare themselves. It took me a long time to realize the obvious; that people were not mind readers and because I was quiet and sort of introverted they didn’t know how I thought or felt,” he said.

Doug developed a best practice called “a DRC (after his initials, Douglas R. Conant) conversation.” Using preparation, he gathers necessary facts and knowledge and explores resistance points to create a document that lays out his beliefs, how he likes to run the company and his perspective on how the industry works. Then he walks each new team member through it.

This focused conversation—a purpose-driven dialogue that leads to problem-solving, selling ideas and working through conflict—is open and honest. In his dialogue, Doug doesn’t exclude personal information like his values, favorite books or quotes. In one thoughtful conversation, he eliminates the guesswork in getting to know him and keeps himself accountable. He tells new hires, “If I behave consistently with this, then I guess you can trust me. If I don’t, I guess you can’t, but at least you will know.”

Preparation and focused conversations get results for Conant, but other “quiet influencers,” as I call “introverted leaders” in my book, “Quiet Influence: The Introvert’s Guide to Making a Difference” have also achieved tremendous results by relying on four other common strengths.

They regularly take quiet time to think, recharge their batteries, boost energy and foster creativity.

They use engaged listening to build rapport, mutual understanding, and trust with their co-workers.

Because talking isn’t always their strong point, writing becomes a way to find clarity about their own positions and articulate authentic, well-developed positions to others.

Some develop a thoughtful use of social media to propel their ideas and reach a previously untapped, broader and global audience.

Engaged listening has become a hallmark trait of Sandy Parillo, CEO of The Providence Mutual Insurance Company. She had not recognized the importance of engaged listening until a coworker pointed out its value. She encourages co-workers to come to her with their ideas and solutions. Her response is “to ask them additional questions, offer alternatives for consideration, give them the benefit of my experience and offer support for their decision,” said Parillo.

After one such conversation, an employee told Parillo that he knew she probably had a hundred things going on, but that during their time together, he felt that she was entirely focused on the topic and gave him full attention. It was a light-bulb moment. Something she did naturally—listening closely and giving thoughtful feedback—added value to the company and both parties.

“I am truly humbled that people want to ‘run this by me’,” she said. She knows that they value her attention, her advice and her encouragement in their own management decisions. “The key is to challenge people appropriately and support them accordingly,” said Parillo.

Writing was the go-to strength for Ronnie Wilkins, executive director of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology when he wanted to launch a new non-profit organization. It would align with and enhance his organization’s scientific mission by providing association management services. Ronnie knew the need was there was there, but it meant selling the board on creating an additional new company. He prepared a carefully outlined memo, finding it easier to have conversations and answer questions once people had a chance to consider his proposal carefully. Within three months the new company, Parthenon, was up and running. It has helped retention of employees by providing new career opportunities and it has exceeded all performance expectations.

More CEOs are borrowing plays from the introverted playbook. They find these quiet strengths to be powerful and that they directly relate to highly-desired soft skills so in-demand in today’s workforce: the ability to communicate clearly, think critically and collaborate to build trust and strong teams. As these examples show, “quiet influence” can be a powerful way of making your case and leading your company forward.

This post is taken from an article I wrote for Chief Executive which appeared on Oct. 27, 2013.

How to Design Workspaces that Engage Millennials


The Millennial Manual - The Complete How-To Guide to Manage, Develop, and Engage Millennials at Work


As some of you know, I have written about the importance of considering workspaces in addressing the needs of introverts. Author Ryan Jenkins has written a comprehensive guide to getting the best out of Millennials and in this guest post Ryan makes a strong case for creating functional and flexible workspaces that cater to all styles. Check out this book. It is a great read!

The envelope of today’s workspaces is being pushed further and further. Facebook recently moved into their new 430,000 square foot “garden-roofed fantasyland” office. Apple has plans for a new Cupertino campus that resembles a giant alien spacecraft. And a new Mountain View headquarters at Google will have miles of super-transparent glass and an interior workspace that can be reshaped by cranes and robots according to the company’s needs.

If Steve Jobs taught us anything, it’s that design matters. The better the design, the better the experience and the higher the engagement. The same applies to today’s workspaces.

Seventy-eight percent of Millennials were strongly influenced by how innovative a company was when deciding if they wanted to work there. It’s no wonder so many of today’s tech giants are investing heavily into new innovative workspaces. Besides creating a functional workspace, the office’s design is being used as a recruiting and employee engagement tool.

What does the design of your workspace communicate to potential new hires and existing employees?

Seventy-nine percent of Millennials would rather be mobile than static while working. It’s become more and more challenging to engage the next generation of employees at work. Providing workspaces that entice collaboration and offer unique experiences are a must.

Work-life integration has replaced work-life balance. Nowadays, we take home more work and we want more life at work. More employees (especially Millennials) are looking for companies that offer a rich and immersive experience at work. And that starts with the physical workspace.

Here are four workspace elements that will engage the Millennial worker.

  1. Collaboration

According to the 2014 Qualtrics Millennials in Tech Survey, 74 percent of Millennials ranked a collaborative work environment as the first or second most important characteristic they look for in the workplace. The quickest way to boost collaboration is to observe where your team naturally gravitates. Once the high traffic areas are located, encourage the collaboration by offering food or drinks nearby, placing stools or high tables at the location, or streaming wifi to the area.

  1. Flexibility

Millennials are more productive and ultimately have a better impression of their employer when they have workplace flexibility. In fact, 90 percent of managers believe that workers are more productive when given the flexibility to choose when and how they work. Cater your workspace to meet a wide range of needs and interest by offering solo workstations, mobile workstations (e.g. desks with wheels), small team rooms, large conference rooms, lounge areas, and relaxed community area.

  1. Value-infused

Company values that are visible on a daily basis will help to engage the Millennial generation who are massively motivated by meaningful work. Bring your company values to life by naming meeting rooms after each value, writing them on the walls, printing them on business cards, looping them on digital displays, or creating images or badges that employees can share on social media.

  1. Wellbeing

Millennials value a healthy lifestyle and are interested in blending that lifestyle with work. Natural light enhances energy and results in more productivity; find ways to leverage natural light in your workspace. The right colors can brighten moods. Color psychologists have found that green promotes calm, blue is stimulating, and yellow spurs creativity. Other perks that can promote a healthy workspace: ergonomic chairs, meditation space, nap rooms, dogs at work, and standing desks.

For more examples and inspiration on how you can create an innovative workspace, search “modern workplace” or a related search term on Pinterest.

Barry Salzburg, the former global CEO of Deloitte Touch Tohmatsu Limited, recently said, “To attract and retain talent, business needs to show Millennials it is innovative and in tune with their world-view.” Leverage an innovative and forward-thinking workspace as your catalyst for Millennial engagement.

This post is a chapter from the new book, The Millennial Manual: The Complete How-To Guide to Manage, Develop, and Engage Millennials at Work by Ryan Jenkins. Jenkins is an internationally recognized Millennial and Generation Z keynote speaker, generations expert, and columnist. Ryan is also a Partner at, a micro-learning platform dedicated to helping Millennials perform better at work


An Introvert Lesson: Technology and Talk

The Genius of Opposites: How Introvert and Extroverts Achieve Extraordinary Results Together Author Day

Jennifer with Kristen Frantz, Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Berrett-Koehler

This blog post was published 2 years ago and I thought I would share it again. Thanks.

2) Queen For A Day My publisher, Berrett-Koehler (BK) invites each of its current book authors to its Oakland, CA headquarters for an “Author Day.” Why? It allows the entire BK team from production to foreign rights to sales to talk with the author and get pumped about selling the book. I jokingly call this “Queen For A Day” as you are the center of attention.I was barely off the elevator when Sales and Marketing VP Kristen Frantz and others surprised me with a wand and crown to wear during my one-day reign!Note that there are literally hundreds of emails that transpire during the process of publishing a book. But it was the “Queen for A Day” experience where the connections solidified. We hashed out challenges, planned for The Genius of Opposites book launch and did our share of laughing.

Another introvert lesson: technology and talk

Jamie Showkeir Rockin’ At Home

3) Keep Jamie at Home A group of five friends joined together to support our fellow author and friend Jamie Showkeir,  who was diagnosed with ALS this past summer. We launched a crowdfunding campaign called Keep Jamie at Home as a way to tackle our helplessness and so that Jamie and his wife Maren could obtain the costly in-home care that is needed.

The results were astounding. Many of you all helped us surpass the goal of $60,000 within one week and today the figure stands at $66,575! (note: the funds increased after this post) Thanks to ALL of you who made a difference and shared so selflessly. Check out Jamie and Maren’s terrific books Authentic Conversations and Yoga Wisdom at Work. 

Technology came into play through emails and phone calls in the planning and execution phases of the project. We also took advantage of the advances in crowdfunding technology. And afterward, we celebrated this marvelous outcome with a virtual photo of a champagne glass and multiple exclamation emails. Then we reached out to each other in a group call and agreed that out of the bad can come some good. Through our grief, we had become closer friends.

Technology and talk did their magic once again. Just enough technology to share data effortlessly and just enough talk to express what was in our hearts.


How to be a more creative person


I am so pleased to share this new TEDX talk by my friend and speaking colleague Bill Stainton. Bill is a living example of how practice is the key to greatness. He prepared for his moment on the TEDX stage for months, rehearsing 5 times a day or more. And the results clearly show…Bill shares wise, powerful lessons about creativity that will make you think for days and weeks afterward. That is the mark of a great speech!

For those of us who write, speak or otherwise create for a living, the art of creativity remains elusive. Yet, Bill’s idea about cracking our cocoon offers one clue to get closer to it.

From the speech description:

“What do Johnny Depp, Bill Nye the Science Guy, and a little old lady from Russia have to do with creativity? More important, how can they help you tap into your own creative genius?

Bill Stainton believes that when we isolate ourselves from ideas, experiences, and people who are “different,” we are robbing ourselves, our businesses, our communities, and our world of the creative ideas that are essential to solving our biggest challenges. Only by becoming less isolationist—by “cracking our cocoon” and embracing people and experiences that may at first seem “weird”—will we discover the connections that can lead to breakthrough ideas….”

I have been more aware of how collecting different experiences helps awaken my creative spirit.  They take me out of my cocoon.  For instance, last weekend, while in DC, I visited the new National Museum of African-American History & Culture. My eyes were opened and I  was so moved. The triumph over adversity showed by African-Americans was so impactfully displayed. The museum images continue to play in my head and I am still processing my feelings. They have shifted something inside and that alone jostles my creative muscle.

I have little interest in gardening but found myself at a plant show this morning, I was struck by the vibrant beauty of the blooming pansies. Another shift.

And I  broke through an impasse on a writing project when away from my desk, stretching in a Yoga class. The idea came as the instructor voiced some soothing words in the background.

By bringing in disparate ideas we often catch that golden one.

I am so grateful to Bill for sharing his gifts with the world and helping us all find the creative genius that lies below the surface.

How can you move out of your cocoon? If you like Bill’s talk please share it with your communities. Thanks!

Evolent Health Tunes into Introverts

Last week I presented a session on introverts and extroverts in the workplace at a fast growing company called Evolent Health. They have grown from 5 employees to 2400 in the last 5 years and are partnering with health systems across the country to provide value based care.

Casey Wilson, Managing Director of Learning and Organizational Effectiveness, along with senior leadership, believe that styles are an important part of the diversity and inclusion agenda. They have previously addressed gender and other issues and saw the need to bring styles into the conversation.

The of 100 participants were made up of remote employees and in-person attendees who were at the Arlington headquarters that day. The class was particularly receptive to learning more about how we can approach conflict. We covered practical approaches such as using key phrases (ex. “you may be right”) and eliminating “but’ from our sentences. We also demonstrated approaches like not standing head on but at a 45-degree angle and implementing the “walking meeting” option.

The importance of humor was also addressed and I shared clips of the Chicago film critics Siskel and Ebert who turned a hostile relationship into one of deep friendship. In discussing, “Destroying the Dislike” I noted that it is when you act like friends and show respect,  your team can accomplish a great deal.

Class participants committed to specific actions and by taking the time to increase their awareness they believe that their effectiveness with teammates will increase.  I am encouraged by the steps of organizations like Evolent Health and Casey Wilson who know styles differences are important to address.