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Introversion in leaders

What makes introverts great leaders? What do they do differently?

I am an introvert. Not a shy type. I am not comfortable with small talk, but I enjoy deep discussions with great personalities. I never asked anyone, but I get this feeling that I scare people whenever I talk to them, a good scare (if that exists). Anyway, on a quest to understand myself, I found a magnificent treasure. I will try to show a small but important part of that in this article, Introversion in leaders.

Introversion is not one type. Many things influence this, like where you grow up, your childhood, environment, family, etc. And it is as powerful as you allow it to be.

What makes introverts great leaders? What do they do differently?

When Jim Collins started his research on how good companies raised to great stature (in his book: Good to Great), he was surprised to see one common trait. All 11 companies (final good to great shortlists of his research) had, as he calls it, “Level 5 leadership.” Leaders who are quiet, humble, reserved, shy, self-effacing, and, in his words, “have ferocious resolve, an almost stoic determination to do whatever needs to be done to make the company great.”

When we try to understand the reason, it is in their nature. Jim Collins highlights this trait in great leaders, “personal humility with a professional will.” He tried to explain personal humility with the Window and the Mirror concept. Great leaders don’t seek attention or credit for themselves. They look out the window and assign credit to the people who deserve it. For critical situations, they look in the mirror and assign responsibility to themselves.

How do you identify a person with the best ideas from a good presenter?

We see people are positioned in leadership roles because they are good talkers (which is considered one of the most desirable qualities) but don’t have the best ideas.

Fun side of 1980s The Wall Street Journal cartoon

It’s all because of Fradkin. He has terrible business sense, but great leadership skills, and everyone is following him down the road to ruin.

According to Adam Grant, a professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, extroverted leaders are effective with passive employees, and introverted leaders are more effective with proactive employees. He experimented with this hypothesis and found that it was true.

Introverted leaders are more attentive to the members’ ideas because they prefer listening and avoid dominating the situation. Proactive members felt more motivated by this to work harder.

Jim Collins found something similar in his research. He points out that the right people are always the first step in transforming a company from good to great. Even before the product or journey. The “right” people who are self-motivated and work towards improving the product, changing the journey if necessary. In the research, he never found that leaders give big speeches to constantly motivate people. You don’t have to when you have the right people on the bus and the wrong people off the bus.

Introverts are more cerebral compared to extroverts. Instead of jumping into action by taking risks, they think. That’s what makes them better risk-takers. In the book, Good to Great, Jim Collins mentioned Darwin Smith, former CEO of Kimberly-Clark, who transformed the paper company into one of the best paper-based consumer products companies in the world. A lot of people don’t know about him. With his humble and shy nature, he probably would have preferred it.

Humility + Will = Level 5

From Jim Collins’s book Good to Great

Even though he was shy, his professional will was unwavering. Everyone doubted when he made the decision to sell its traditional core (mill) business and invest in the consumer business. Wall Street analysts downgraded the stock. In his twenty years of leadership, Smith transformed Kimberly-Clark from a company whose stock had fallen 36 percent behind the general market to a company that generated cumulative stock returns 4.1 times the general market, easily beating its rivals Scott Paper and Procter & Gamble. When he retired, he reflected on his performance, “I never stopped trying to become qualified for the job.”

We don’t need people with larger-than-life saviors with big personalities, as opposed to conventional thoughts, to transform companies.

This research about great leaders and introverts goes very deep. I took one small idea and tried to simplify it here.

My quest continues.

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