Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Introverts: get the best from the quiet half of your workforce






















Nick McBain, Clarity Coaching


Great managers need to be able to get the best from all individuals, to achieve outstanding results. Marcus Buckingham 1  says “the best managers share one talent -- the ability to find, and then capitalize upon, their employees' unique traits.”

This guide will help you understand and get the best from introverts – a group which many agree makes up 30-50% of the workforce. People are starting to appreciate that introverts have some key qualities, including potential to be more successful as leaders than extraverts.
 
Issues which drive this include: the war for talent (attracting and keeping the best high-potential staff), managing proactive employees (by listening and involving more than just telling), and the whole domain of employee engagement through change.

"When the confederates were proactive, participants perceived the more extraverted leaders as less receptive to ideas, and they invested less effort in the task". Dr Adam Grant, The Wharton Business School, University of Pennsylvania  2

 

‘Introvert’ – what does this mean?


History - The terms introversion and extraversion (alt.spelling ‘extroversion’) were first popularized by Carl Jung, then Hans Eysenck, and are a central concept in the Myers Briggs Type Indicator, the 16PF questionnaire, and many others.
Importance - They are one of the broadest ways to classify individuals, hence one of the most immediately useful.  They are one of the most deeply-rooted preferences, and one that appears earliest.
Meaning - Extraversion is more outward-focused, introversion more inward-focused. “It’s different from being shy – shyness is about fear of social judgement. Introversion is about how you respond to your situation, including social ones. Extraverts crave large amounts of social interaction, introverts are at their most alive in a quieter, more low-key environment.” author Susan Cain 3 .
Scaling - There is no such thing as a pure introvert or extravert. We are all somewhere along the scale. Also, many introverts have succeeded in learning to act like extraverts (for work, or since their time in big classrooms at school). This takes extra energy though. 
How many are leaders - Psychologists Stephan Dilchert and Deniz Ones 4 demonstrated that although some 50% of the U.S. population is extraverted, approximately 96% of U.S. leaders are extraverted. Introverts are therefore highly under-represented in this category.
Common misconceptions - A classic misapprehension is that introverts can’t make good presentations or speeches. Not so! Introverts can give an excellent presentation to a big audience: for the introvert presenter, there is nothing more important than preparation.
Cultural – introversion is a more powerful norm in Eastern cultures, where the success of the group is often valued above that of the self, than in Western culture where the individual is paramount. In many Asian cultures, extravert behaviour is seen as crude.
Which are you?
You're more of an introvert if: You're more of an extravert if:

- Solitary pursuits, or being alone to think, tends to recharge your energy.

- Interacting with groups in work or social settings tends to drain your energy.

- You gather and process information using reference materials: books, articles and online.

- You problem-solve through solitary reflection. Left alone to think through an issue, you can often come up with several options. Pure brainstorming in groups doesn’t work as well for you.

- With a choice of going to a large "event of the year" party, spending an evening at home with a book, or a film with one or two close friends, you choose the latter two.

- Being around others recharges your energy.

- At work and at play, you prefer group activities to solitary tasks or hobbies.

- You gather and process information by talking: phoning a friend, or discussing with a co-worker.

- You problem-solve best in groups. - You enjoy brainstorming sessions and meetings, your ideas are often formed by bouncing them off of others. Left alone to deal with a problem, your mind can run in circles.

- For entertainment, you'll pick a social outing over a quiet evening at home. If nothing's going on this weekend, you'll be the one to pull together a group outing.

 

What particular skills can introverts bring to the team? 


“It’s not that I’m so smart,” said Einstein (famous introvert). “It’s that I stay with problems longer.”
Concentration – undisturbed, introverts can be particularly good at focusing on an issue and puzzling it out. They frequently excel at research and problem-solving.
Negotiation – thanks to their tendency to speak quietly and reasonably, to ask questions, and to listen to the answers, introverts can make unusually strong negotiators.
Reflectiveness, persistence, sensitivity – introverts commonly show these qualities, just as useful for a team as gregarious and highly verbal traits.
Deep thinking - introverts may take longer to react to a question, but make more ‘mental connections’ on the way. So, the response may contain more substance. 5
Quiet leadership – quieter leaders, who think first and talk later, suit a workplace populated by intelligent knowledge workers, in self-managing teams, and particularly Generation Y. The Wharton research highlighted above gives hard evidence for this.

 

Three easy ways to make the most of these talents


Check back, and keep checking back – make sure quieter people get a chance to contribute in meetings: don’t just give the floor to the extraverts. Give the thinkers a chance by prompting for contributions at the time, and by checking back with them later.
Allow time for them to innovate... then give credit – accept that some people will need more time and space, and for introverts this means on their own, to help them come up with insightful ideas which might become the next big innovation. 
Attitude: don’t stereotype, value – an example: “if they only got their acts together they could learn to be extraverts” and “introverts are somehow lower energy” 6. Introverts go deep, and extroverts go wide. Make space in your values for both.

 

Five strategic suggestions


Audit your work spaces – you will already have space where employees can interact and communicate. It is equally important to have space where employees can be alone and work undisturbed. Open area concepts, where everyone works in sight of each other and communicates freely, can represent serious problems for people who need space to reflect.
“Psychologist Russell Green ...  gave a math problem to introverts and extroverts to solve with varying levels of background noise. And he found that the introverts did better when the noise was lower, and the extroverts did better when the noise was higher.” Susan Cain Harvard Business Review July 2012 7

Work to introverts’ strengths ... and expand them - clearly the introvert preference will be for work requiring concentration and focus. With guidance (mentoring, coaching, stretching assignments) introverts can expand this repertoire and use their strengths to grow. Introverts who carefully prepare and rehearse presentations can excel; by networking authentically and deeply they can build strong, lasting relationships.
Set up situations that help suit this group - make sure they receive material about what is being discussed beforehand so they have time to process and reflect. Try to meet with introverted employees in smaller groups, a less taxing environment. Set up communities of practice and make social media learning resources available – both powerful platforms for introverts who can leverage their strengths on their terms. 
Acknowledge the power of quiet leadership – make sure that the quiet leaders are heard and acknowledged. They may be more quiet, but they have the potential for carrying people with them through change far more effectively than loud, directive leaders. A flip side is that they are often more reflective and critical of situations.
They can become highly effective, like a range of CEOs from Bill Gates to William McKnight (who helped bring 3M back from the brink of bankruptcy in the 1960s).
Clear the road for innovation – innovation is key: but truly important, breakthrough innovations can be missed until it is too late. Managing the tensions between the powerful organizational mainstream, and fragile new streams produced by innovation groups, is a central theme in Rosabeth Moss Kanter’s influential When Giants Learn to Dance 8 . By opening up the channels between quieter people and others, or top management (extravert) and back-room staff (introvert), you could make all the difference.

 

References

4. Ones, Deniz S.; Dilchert, Stephan Industrial and Organizational Psychology: Perspectives on Science and Practice, Vol 2(2), Jun 2009, 163-170

 

Further reading

When Giants Learn To Dance: The Definitive Guide to Corporate Success - Rosabeth Moss Kanter 1990


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