One Hurdle Some Leaders Can’t Overcome

Cracking the code on effective leadership includes a wide range of attributes and considerations. With all the combinations of factors making a great leader, there is one set of personality traits that I find the most challenging for some clients to adjust.

people skills

You seldom hear the words “introvert” and “leader” in the same sentence. The common perception is that great CEOs are very outward going, good public speakers and powerful networkers; things that introverts are not known for doing.

In fact, a poll conducted by USA Today cited 65 percent of executives who believed introversion to be a barrier to leadership.

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Interestingly, the same article highlights that roughly 40 percent of leaders are introverted — they’re just better at adapting themselves to situational demands. Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and Charles Schwab are just a few “innies.”

Social Proof

The use of a 360-degree review is common when beginning a coaching assignment. The 360 gives the coach and the coachee a baseline from which we can work. The presence of an introverted executive gets called out in 360 reviews time and again.

The one prevailing observation is that those who report to this kind of manager are hungry for more personal interaction.

As an example, I know one very successful executive who is quite introverted. He is widely respected in his field of expertise, yet those who report directly to him confess a need to “know him better”.

What does that mean? His people say he seldom shares personal info. They have no idea about his view of the world beyond the exact tasks they work.

He is known for being very hard to read. Even coaching with him was difficult because it took a long time for him to really open up about his inner concerns for the changes he thought he wanted to make.

As you might guess, the walls he keeps guarding are the primary factors we needed to focus upon. None of his other desires could be achieved without first breaking through the outer skin that protected his deep introversion.

Busting the Barrier

What I’ve found effective is to discuss the subtle difference between being personable rather than personal.

While some may think this is a detail too insignificant to talk about, I’ve found introverted managers and leaders tend to thrive once they embrace the nuance.

Here’s why it works. First, being personal is a threat to the deeply introverted individual. Voluntarily divulging details of one’s life outside the workplace is a bridge too far. Yet this is exactly the material that fellow workers want to understand.

It’s not about prying into their boss’s life, but rather it’s about getting to know them as a person. From the employee’s view, it’s about answering the question, “can you even relate to me?”

Next, because of the former, the introverted leader tends to shy away from asking relatable questions of his/her employees. Exchanges are all business. That comes across as cold and calculated, nothing more.

As cliché as it sounds, we all still work with people; it’s a relationship thing. By becoming aware of the hunger most employees have for hearing their boss relate to them, the introverted manager must find ways to feed this beast.

This principle applies to all people in positions of authority. You must be able to relate to those who may be following you.

  • Simple, relatable questions are:
  • How was your vacation?
  • How was the weekend?
  • Did you see that game?
  • How is ___________ doing with ______________? Fill in with family members dealing with life changes; illness, moves, step changes, etc.

Then as you get answers, tie it to something in your life. Respond with “Yes, I remember when ____________ was ______________.”

Slowly begin adding your own life experiences to the mix. Let the momentum for having more personal interactions build.

Soon colleagues will feel more comfortable around you. Also, don’t shy away from making statements like “Well, here’s what I am thinking.” You can open up by sharing thoughts. You have thoughts, right? As business unfolds and interactions happen, share your thoughts specifically.

By doing so, you reveal the world inside your head and inside your heart. That makes you far more relatable.

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Originally posted on DougThorpe.com

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