Quiet Leaders, Heroes When it Counts

It is in a crisis that the true colors of people rise to the surface. In the case of a snowstorm last year, I benefited from the strength of three quiet leaders when it really mattered.

The weather forecast wasn’t great, but I made it to LaGuardia airport in NYC without incident. As I settled into the Delta Skyclub the snow fell harder and the dreaded red canceled signs on the screen started appearing. I waited in line with the other passengers and managed to secure a standby seat on the one remaining flight headed back to Atlanta.

The delay seemed to last forever, but miraculously the flight was not canceled and 6 hours later several of us headed down to the gate. My first quiet hero was an off-duty flight attendant who volunteered to join the assigned crew so that the plane could comply with the FAA and be able to take off. She changed into her uniform and waited 2 hours for her clearance. Then she stepped into character, switching from a weary passenger to a focused, working flight attendant. When I boarded the plane and thanked her she looked slightly embarrassed. “Of course!” she said and continued helping passengers on the crowded flight with their bags.

After we landed late that evening, I ran to a taxi at the curb. Atlanta was emerging from an ice storm and I knew driving could be treacherous. My cab driver navigated the road safely. He exhibited calm and made low-key conversation so the time flew by. I trusted him to get me safely home and he did.  When I thanked him he just smiled.

It was 2:30 a.m. when the garage door finally opened and the man who I have known most of my life stepped onto the ice to help me out of the cab. I was so happy and touched that husband Bill actually waited up for me. He showed up and that meant everything.

The actions of quiet leaders speak so much louder than words ever can. Without fanfare, they deliver when it counts.

Are Introverts or Extroverts Better Suited to Rule Business?

One of the risks of labeling personality types is to go too far on the stereotyping. We are in danger of getting carried away with pronouncements about introverts and extroverts. In a sort of backlash, the scale has tipped away from extroverts, pronouncing them as ignorant loudmouths who are superficial.

It is true that introverts have a tendency to exhibit certain strengths, but it does not exclude extroverts from claiming those strengths as well. In writing my books, I try to be careful about putting absolute labels on either group. Most of us actually straddle the introvert-extrovert line and move back and forth between styles.

Take a look at this infographic below about introverts and how they “rule the world.” I agree with most of the myths and strengths highlighted here except for #5 — “Introverts make better bosses.” One research study says introverts make better managers with extroverted employees but that does not mean that introverts always make better bosses.

We need to be careful about making sweeping generalizations about introverts and extroverts. There is relatively scant research to make true claims about either one. And people’s temperaments are complex and not so easily wrapped up. Yes — Introverts can be terrific at listening (Reason #2), however extroverts can be as well when they use their natural skill of developing rapport and asking questions.

So in this article which the infographic is based upon,  7 Reasons Introverts Now Rule the World,  author, Larry Kim writes that extroverts are okay BUT that introverts are “particularly suited for the digital age.”

“I’m certainly not trying to hate on extroverts. I’m simply suggesting that it’s time to rethink the qualities we value in business. The tendency has been to favor the boisterous, loud, whirlwind energy of extroverts. Instead, we need to take into account those introverted underdogs. They are the ones, with their thoughtfulness and creativity, who we’ll see pulling the strings in our increasingly more digital-oriented age, the one in which they were born to rule.”

Yes, I agree. We do need to rethink the qualities we value in business. But let’s consider that both introverts and extroverts are both suited to meet the demands of a complex workplace and yes…. they were both born to rule.


Infographic Example
This infographic was created using the Visme. An easy-to-use Infographic Maker.

How 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. Recently, 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. This is an approach to software development under which requirements and solutions evolve through the collaborative effort of self-organizing and cross-functional teams and their customer(s)/end user(s). This lends itself to ongoing discussions and connection throughout the day. In the “before” photo below, 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 work space, 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!”

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 have gone “all in” and are not looking back. The results are speaking for themselves!

Doing Conferences: Introverts and Extroverts Pace Yourself

With fellow authors Michelle Reina, Jesse Stoner, Catherine Robinson-Walker, and Bev Kaye at the 2015 BK Author’s Marketing Workshop in San Francisco

A few years ago, I attended two back to back conferences. The first was a book marketing workshop sponsored by the BK Author’s Co-op in SF followed by the National Speakers Association conference in Washington, D, C. As I started to review my notes and highlight those actions I planned to take I realized that I had learned some other important lessons about how to “do” conferences.

Here are five strategies that worked for me. Perhaps some of these ideas will be useful to you introverts and extroverts.

1. Prepare – Ask yourself what your purpose is when attending. I wanted to connect with old colleagues, learn about new trends (ex. doing video blogging) and meet with new vendors. I set up a few dinners and a breakfast but didn’t go overboard with planning. This ensured that I could see the people  I wanted to see while still remaining spontaneous.

But I also left slack time for other spontaneous happenings. I was privileged to learn about a jam session with top-notch performers like Freebo and Mike Rayburn.  A small band of fans gathered in an empty ballroom and grooved to these “virtuosos”, a term that Mike uses in describing people at the top of their game.

I also sketched out a schedule of programs I wanted to attend. That allowed me to get to the room early and ensure a seat for popular sessions.

2. Pace Yourself –Get your rest, eat well and exercise – even a few stretches in your room are helpful.  I also have learned my sweet spot for conference attendance. After 72 hours on my butt inside a hotel with few outside breaks, I am ready to break out of hotel prison. I missed one of the banquets because I left early but didn’t regret it.

3. Connect in The Corridor – At the NSA conference, walking around the hallways during sessions can be a walk down a hall of fame in the speaking world. Jeannie Robertson, Robert Bradford, and Alan Stevens were some of my encounters that year. I gained a usable nugget from each one of them.  Those brief “stop and chats” have been priceless and make a huge difference in my biz and life.

4. Be Nice to Newcomers – I hate cliques but can sometimes be guilty myself of leaving newcomers out of the conversation. I am glad that at NSA all newcomers have a ribbon with “VIP” on it to help them realize how important they are.  I learned so much from people as I came into the field and am happy to share my experience with them. Mentoring VIP’s also helps me to chart my own progress. I was able to facilitate a discussion at the book marketing workshop and could recognize my own professional growth by giving some of it away

5. Leave the Husband at Home – Through a long marriage, Bill and I both have realized that one of our winning strategies is to make space away from each other.  I travel for my annual conference and get my energy boost. He gets to enjoy solitude to his heart’s delight. When Bill picks me up at the train station after my trips he does seem more relaxed. I spill out my stories on the 10-minute ride home and he listens patiently.  Conferences give opposites like us much-needed respites from each other.

So consider how you can “do conferences” to play to your own energy needs and get the most out of those days away from home.

Knowing how to pace yourself and figuring out your purpose will help you get the most out of these professional development opportunities.

5 management books to check out

I love lists of recommended books. These  “Listicles.” as they are known, help me cut through the clutter online. Even if I don’t get to read the entire list of recommendations, I can check out the excerpts.  This also goes for listicles of recommended films, tv shows, podcasts, blogs, etc. You might be like me and enjoy getting a feel for new and useful content. 

It was a nice surprise to discover The Introverted Leader and the description of “quiet dedication” included on a recent list created by Tamanna Mishra for the website YourStory. 

New content in the 2nd edition covers introvert-friendly workplaces, recruiting and interviewing introvert talent and new research on introverted leadership.  

I was pleased to see the great work of my book’s endorsers, Adam Grant and Dan Pink included here as well  Both Drive and Give and Take are classics.

Here is the article:

Five management books that will help you kickstart 2018 on a high note 

“For professionals – C-suite and mid-level management alike – the process of learning does not – and more importantly, should not – stop. As you grow in your role, so do the challenges that arise directly or through your close circle of mentors and leaders. How does one learn to respond to such situations? The answers lie in books.

From human challenges such as persuading customers and motivating employees to operational challenges that involve creating order in a system that seems to be built on the premise of chaos, there is a lot that business books have spoken about in the past and continue to do so. It is this advice from management experts and business leaders that can steer you in the right direction.

The year-end holiday season is the best time not just to reflect on your personal achievements but also to catch up on the lessons learned by businesses across the globe. So here’s a reading list featuring books on entrepreneurship, leadership, human relations, and every other topic a professional might be interested in.

Persuasion is the core of all businesses. Great leaders are masters at selling to their customers, instilling loyalty in their employees, and etching a mark in the industry. This is exactly why Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion is a timeless read for professionals. Cialdini uses instances from his own experiences and applies them to the psychological principles of professional life. Throughout the book, the author also interviews professionals from diverse roles and functions as a proof point for his analogies.

The Introverted Leader: Building on Your Quiet Strength, Jennifer Kahnweiler

After many years of focusing on popular ideas like “winning friends” and “influencing people”, new-age professionals are demanding a new kind of inclusion – the inclusion of diverse personality types at work. According to modern workplace discourse, success doesn’t always have to come from taking center stage. Quiet dedication is as much a skill as extroverted and charismatic leadership. Jennifer Kahnweiler’s book does a great job of articulating this.

The Introverted Leader is a compilation of interviews with over 100 introverted professionals who talk about their experiences and tools to deal with and succeed in an extroverted culture. The book also includes great advice for introverts from Kahnweiler’s perspective and articulates the different skills and strengths introverts have and can tap on to rise through the ranks. The book is a must-read not only for introverted professionals but also for leaders who must learn how to include introverts in workplace discourse and decision-making.

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Daniel Pink

Motivating teams and employees is one of the most business-sensitive tasks that leaders and managers contend with every day. Daniel Pink’s Drive is an argument on what truly motivates individuals. Most organizations take a carrot-and-stick approach to employee motivation, focusing largely on external factors like appreciation, salary hikes, and promotions. Pink argues that motivation is an intrinsic thing, and is truly driven by autonomy, expertise, and purpose. The book also advocates a hybrid approach to management that caters to motivation and fulfillment needs of diverse individuals.

What makes this book truly relevant in our times is the fact that it is the first time in history that three generations are in the workplace together. Along with the increasingly inclusive nature of teams and workplaces, it all makes managerial behaviour that much more complex. Drive breaks down what we all know but don’t always remember – that people management is the art of saying what one needs to hear, in ways that they understand.

Managing the Mental Game, Jeff Boss

Most of the challenges, at work and in life, can be overcome by training your mind to respond differently to negativity, pessimism, and insecurity. That is exactly what executive coach and former Navy SEAL Jeff Boss discuss in his book, Managing The Mental Game. The book is a guide to mental training techniques that enhance self-belief, confidence, and fortitude to overcome challenges and push the boundaries of success.

A very simple take on life’s complex issues, the book makes mental training a lot less intimidating and more relatable for the average professional. It provides a very basic knowledge of understanding your mind and overcoming mental traps like uncertainties while giving pointers on how to attain mental focus. Cutting through the jargon of neuroscience, the book reflects upon change, thought architecture, and retraining your mind to reject negative thoughts and replace them with positive ones.

At a time when the boundaries between professional and personal lives have blurred and lives have become much more stressful than ever before, Boss’ book comes as a refreshing lesson in cutting through the chaos and prioritizing moving forward in life and work.

Give and Take, Adam Grant

No matter what your personality type, one’s professional equity is almost always defined by the quality of the interactions they have with their colleagues, managers, and teams. That’s the idea behind Adam Grant’s Give and Take. Moving away from traditional and often individualistic drivers of success such as passion, hard work, and luck, Grant focuses on traits that make individuals into givers, takers, or matchers. Grant then uses his research as a Wharton professor to prove how these engagement styles define success. A widely acclaimed book, Give and Take is an insightful lesson in effective networking, collaboration, influence, negotiation, and leadership skills, and in essence, a powerful force that holds the key to transforming not only one’s professional life but even communities and organizations.

This reading list touches upon contemporary needs such as mental fortitude, communication, and the inclusion of diverse personality types. Which one of these are you adding to your reading list? Do mention your favorites in the comments below.”

Playing the piano helped this introverted leader

Playing the piano helped this introvert

David, a manager at a global publishing company was kind enough to write me and share the approach he took to overcome his performance anxiety.  He wrote: ” I am considered an introvert and I am transitioning to a leadership role,” he said.

“……The ironic thing for me is that my position requires a lot of public speaking, training and facilitating in meetings. I will say that it can be very draining, and very often I will withdraw from the public for hours or the rest of the day after long meetings or training sessions. I dine alone or take two-hour naps to recharge.

The public speaking aspects, as well as the internal and external customer interactions that I am “forced” to do, are not so problematic for me now because I  a musician, and have for much of my life focused on solo piano. There is nothing quite as nerve-racking as walking up to the stage to expose your every weakness, physical and mental, before an audience who is all too familiar with the repertoire. You think you will make a mistake, then you do, and everybody knows when it happened. It often looms larger in the performer’s mind than it does with the audience, and so it eats away at you. The small mistakes can make you that much more nervous during your next performance. “

Here is how David said he overcome that challenge: “One of the things I tried to do was to put more focus on the energy or the spirit of the performance, to focus on the performance itself and not the technical aspects of the piece. In this way, someone might say, “oh, it’s a shame you didn’t nail such-and-such a section”; however, they cannot take away from the energy or the emotion of the performance. This makes a performance satisfying to both audience and performer.”

And he continued, ” Besides all that, it makes public speaking a breeze! I always go into a meeting or a training room with the idea that talking is easier than playing Liszt. I have placed my mindset in advance so I can methodically make presentations and “improvise” as necessary. This way, public speaking becomes like playing and I am never nervous.”

David’s parting words? “My advice for people with public speaking fears is to go out and take some piano lessons, with the goal of performing a piece in a group recital after a year or so. These things are typically arranged by studio teachers and are great for inviting family and friends. Not only does one benefit from learning a new language, but one also benefits from the trial-by-fire performance of a Mozart trifle, missing some notes, then moving on with life and getting better.”

Thank you, David. Let’s see if anyone takes you up on your suggestion. Playing an instrument also helps your brain cells multiply so it sounds like a good suggestion all around.

How to hire introverts

Don’t overlook introverts in your hiring

In a recent lawsuit against Harvard, the NY Times reported that a group of Asian-American students claim that Asian students were rated lower than those from other groups. The traits that were cited as being ranked lower were having a “positive personality,” likeability, courage, kindness and being widely respected.

The concerns these students have about being excluded because of their temperament remind me of another group that experiences rejection because of their personality type: introverts.

An article in the Washington Post by Jonathon Zimmerman, a professor of education and history at The University of Pennsylvania connected the possible bias against Asian-American students to the discrimination introverts face in universities. “Cross-cultural studies have demonstrated that people in the East tend to emphasize traits such as humility and hard work, while Americans more often favor cheerfulness and enthusiasm.” He says, (and I agree), that he wishes universities were friendly to diverse personalities, “not just diverse races.”

I am not involved in college admissions, however, I study the world of work, and excluding people from job opportunities is a common concern of introverts I work with.

How many people have been denied entry to a company because they didn’t fit the company ideal of an outgoing, expressive person?  Being a go-getter, initiating conversation and having high energy are all extroverted traits and job candidates can be marked down if they don’t exhibit these traits. It is important that our organizations pull from a variety of personality traits.

Here are the steps I outlined in The Introverted Leader; Building On Your Quiet Strength to make sure you are giving introverts a fair chance and ensure that you are setting the stage for introverted candidates and extroverted potentials to show you who they really are:

In the recruiting stage:

Make sure you are not overlooking introverts when casting your net. In internal hiring, that can happen because introverts have not been out there selling themselves. Sallie, an introverted recruiting manager who participates in promotion and hiring, is aware of the bias that often exists when less visible and vocal candidates are discussed. She makes a point of researching potential team members who are qualified but have not been especially vocal. “Being an introvert myself, I am especially sensitive to this situation. I see my role as an introvert advocate in hiring discussions.”

In the interviewing stage:

  1. Prep the room: Avoid blazing lights and noisy areas. Putting a desk between you and the candidate interferes with rapport, but sitting too close can be off-putting for introverts, who value personal space. Try sitting kitty-corner—it creates the right amount of intimacy. If it’s a group interview, seat the candidate at the middle of the table rather than at its head so they feel less scrutinized and can make eye contact with everyone.
  2. Check your bias: If you’re an introvert, you most likely will be comfortable with a slower pace, pauses, and the possible self-effacing stance of an introverted interviewee. But check yourself for confirmation bias—seeking answers that support your case and minimizing other important responses. Be clear about the skills and traits you need for the position. Consider how comfortable you feel with a person who mirrors your style, and try to diversify your pool of candidates by being open to everyone.
  3. Schedule adequate time: If you schedule yourself too tightly between interviews, you’ll likely feel pressured and impatient if the person doesn’t talk quickly enough. Introverted candidates are likely to pause before answering questions, and they may not fight for conversational space. The time before and after the interview will allow you to write notes, reflect on impressions, and jot down questions.
  4. Try these phrases: Prepare strategies to control interviews, especially with extroverted applicants. Become comfortable with gentle interruptions. For example, you might say, “That’s great, I have a few more questions I want to get in…” Or when trying to keep things moving, you can introduce your questions with “Can you briefly tell me…” or “In a couple of sentences…”
  5. Use paraphrasing: Reflecting back what you heard gives candidates a chance to modify or validate what they said. Introverts and extroverts will appreciate the chance to clarify their thoughts more completely.

We can never totally eliminate our bias but we can take tangible steps to face it head-on and create a workforce that represents all personalities.

Introverts and Extroverts: Let’s Have Conversations Worth Having

Conversations Worth Having For Introverts

The other night I was at a business reception and found myself sitting next to two people I didn’t know well. After about 15 minutes, I realized that we had been having quite a satisfying and provocative conversation. I felt like my brain had been challenged by new perspectives.

Meaningful, stimulating conversations like these have been on my mind lately, ever since reading the terrific new book, Conversations Worth Having: Using Appreciative Inquiry to Fuel Productive and Meaningful Engagement by Jackie Stavros and Cheri Torres.  The authors are good friends who used their own conversations as colleagues and their combined years of field research as the basis for their important message.

They write that great conversations are rich, deep and allow for the creation of new images and metaphors. They can change how people think. These interactions are uplifting and energizing, positive and productive. Conversations can be critical and destructive, or they can be generative and productive.

Research for my book The Genius of Opposites: How Introverts and Extroverts Achieve Extraordinary Results Together, revealed that when opposites “Bring On The Battles” or face disagreement head on, they report stronger results than when they avoid conflict.  I like the idea of adding a positive spin to these “battles”. For instance, asking the question, “What is the problem, complaint or thing you don’t want?” followed by  “What is the positive opposite, the thing you want ?” and  “…….What is the desired outcome?” give us helpful ways to reframe the dialogue.

Both Introverts and extroverts can connect and move their partnerships forward by adding questions like these to their interactions. Introverts, with their propensity for one-on-one explorations and depth in their connections, will appreciate the framework that allows them to go even deeper. Extroverts, with their natural connection to people,  enthusiasm and ease in asking questions can use this framework to keep the dialogue moving forward in a positive direction.   Both parties benefit.

And there are more reasons for having these conversations. Listen to what Cheri Torres told blogger and leadership expert  Skip Prichard when he asked about why conversations don’t get enough attention in business.

“Conversations are such an integral part of functioning in the community that we take them for granted. Until recently, there was nothing drawing our attention to their importance. Research in the field of neurophysiology, however, is showing that conversations are integral to our capacity to access the executive center of our brain, the pre-frontal cortex, where higher order thinking, creativity, trust, good decision making, and the ability to connect are possible. Conversations that trigger fear or uncertainly stimulate the release of cortisol, epinephrine, and testosterone, shutting down access to the pre-frontal cortex and stimulating fight, flight, freeze, or appease. A good conversation has the power to shift the brain from a threat to safety, simulating a whole different set of hormones—oxytocin, dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins. These hormones help us reconnect, open up to what others have to say, and rekindle trust. Further research in positive psychology corresponds, showing that positivity in the workplace builds resiliency, high performance, innovation, and collaboration. Organizations that have taken this research to heart and have shifted leadership and management practices are discovering the amazing power of a great conversation – a conversation worth having.”

I also want to refer you to another wonderful book on this topic written by Maren Showkeir and the late Jamie Showkeir called Authentic Conversations: Moving from Manipulation to Truth and Commitment.    The book “demonstrates how we can move to honest and authentic interactions: adult conversations that create increased commitment, true accountability, and improved business performance. They offer examples of parent-child and adult-adult workplace conversations in a variety of settings and provide a hands-on guide, including sample scripts, for dealing with a host of potentially difficult conversations.”

So let’s get off our phones and have an authentic conversation. How is that for an idea worth having?