How introverted leaders can be better bosses for extroverts
Management networking has traditionally been viewed as the hunting ground of the extroverted; a playground for those who feel confident – perhaps even inspired – initiating and developing networks with likeminded peers. In Canada and the rest of the world, this has historically been mirrored in the typical structure of promotion and leadership which often favoured the extroverted. Yet with the rise of online platforms such as LinkedIn, and a constant emphasis on rewarding the diverse and creative, introverted people in leadership positions are becoming more commonplace than ever before.
We need only to look to the tech world to see shining examples of this trend – think Bill Gates of Microsoft or Mark Zuckerburg of Facebook. In fact, it’s interesting that this personality type has only really broken into the mainstream in the last few decades considering that globally, a third of employees are classed as introverted and a further third identify as introverted to some degree. Our research – which examined over 150 CEOs – demonstrated that more than 30 percent of senior executives exhibited introverted qualities. At the middle and first line manager levels, this figure was closer to 50 percent.
The numbers speak for themselves. Yet such a disparity between the ways these two types of people communicate, innovate and process new information can create challenges for the introverted leader. Rather than feeling synergy with their extroverted colleagues, they are unlikely to feed off the energy of engaged audiences and may not be inclined to bounce ideas off others in order to strategise. In fact, they may be the polar opposite, preferring to digest information quietly and with considerable analysis. This can jar with an extroverted employee, who may become frustrated if they view the other person’s attention as passive, or not displaying readable physical signals such as leaning in, nodding or making facial expressions. Without these, it is possible that they may, in extreme cases, find their creativity altogether stumped.
Interestingly, this idea is further demonstrated in the way introverts and extroverts tend to network. Whilst the typical extrovert will feel confident in face-to-face situations and is likely to be able to ‘work a room’, studies suggest that these interactions are often far more superficial than the deeper connections made by an introvert. By choosing a smaller, more select group of people to target, they are paving the way for meaningful connections that they are likely to be able to draw upon further in their career. The value of tools such as LinkedIn really comes to fruition in these circumstances, allowing users to send one-on-one messages in the quiet of their own offices or homes, whenever is convenient. Similarly, opportunities such as viewing the guest list of an upcoming networking event provides a great opportunity for those with a more introverted disposition to focus on connecting with a smaller number of people whose interests match their own. By accessing this information, many feel more prepared and are able to spend their efforts on those that they know will make a valuable addition to their network.
Both when managing and networking, introverted leaders must be aware of others’ needs and can usually make a positive impact by adhering to one simple piece of advice; turning up the volume of their listening. They must remember that they play a crucial part in encouraging the creativity of those they are managing, despite sourcing their own creativity from much quieter and often introspective places. Being aware that a higher level of emotional engagement is appreciated from them by the extrovert speaker, and aligning themselves with the needs of individual members of their team is likely to have a very real impact on the productivity and creativity of this unit.
It is an important and often mentioned fact that both introverts and extroverts bring equally valuable qualities to businesses, and both are important to our team success. The energy and enthusiasm of the extrovert can be classed as inspiring, drawing out ideas from others, yet organisations also need the deep thought, analysis and insights that introverts so readily offer. The best managers – be they introverted or extroverted – must be able to bring out both sides of the team, without compromising their own creativity. The ability to do this, and to encourage others whose personalities may be different to, or even the opposite of, their own is a skill to be revered in strong managers. By turning up the volume of their listening and tailoring their leadership style to the needs of individuals, the introverted leader will be well armed to tackle any challenge that comes their way.
Karl Moore is the Associate Professor at the Desautels Faculty of Management, McGill University, and Associate Fellow at Green Templeton College, Oxford University.
Marketing matters: from IBM to Kyndryl
Prior to joining Kyndryl as Chief Marketing Officer, Maria had a 25-year career at IBM, most recently as the tech giant’s CMO where she oversaw all marketing professionals and activities across North America, Canada and Latin America. She has held senior global marketing positions in a variety of disciplines and business units across IBM, most notably strategic initiatives in Smarter Cities and Watson Customer Engagement, as well as leading teams in services, business analytics, and mobile and industry solutions. She is known for her work with teams to leverage data, analytics and cloud technologies to build deeper engagements with customers and partners.
With a passion for marketing, business and people, and a recognized expert in data-driven marketing and brand engagement, Maria talks to Business Chief about her new role, her leadership style and what success means to her.
You've recently moved from IBM to Kyndryl, joining as CMO. Tell us about this exciting new role?
I’m Chief Marketing Officer for Kyndryl, the independent company that will be created following the separation from IBM of its Managed Infrastructure Services business, expected to occur by the end of 2021. My role is to plan, develop, and execute Kyndryl's marketing and advertising initiatives. This includes building a company culture and brand identity on which we base our marketing and advertising strategy.
We have an amazing opportunity ahead at Kyndryl to create a company brand that will stand apart in the market by leading with our people first. Once we are an independent company, each Kyndryl employee will advance the vital systems that power human progress. Our people are devoted, restless, empathetic, and anticipatory – key qualities needed as we build on existing customer relationships and cultivate new ones. Our people are at the heart of this business and I am deeply hopeful and excited for our future.
What experiences have helped prepare you for this new opportunity?
I’ve had a very rich and diverse career history at IBM that has lasted 25+ years. I started out in sales but landed explored opportunities at IBM in different roles, business units, geographies, and functions. Marketing and business are my passions and I landed on Marketing because it allowed me to utilize both my left and right brain, bringing together art and science. In college, I was no tonly a business major, but an art major. I love marketing because I can leverage my extensive knowledge of business, while also being able to think openly and creatively.
The opportunities I was given during my time at IBM and my natural curiosity have led me to the path I’m on now and there’s no better next career step than a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to help launch a company. The core of my role at Kyndryl is to create a culture centered on our people and growing up in my career at IBM has allowed me to see first-hand how to prioritize people and ensure they are at the heart of progress in everything Kyndryl will do.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I believe that people aren't your greatest assets, they are your only assets. My platform and background for leadership has always been grounded in authenticity to who I am and centered on diversity and inclusion. I immigrated to the US from Chile when I was 10 years old and so I know the power and beauty that comes from leaning into what makes you different from other people, and that's what I want every person in my marketing organization to feel – the value in bringing their most authentic self to work every day. The way our employees feel when they show up for themselves authentically is how they will also show up for our customers, and strong relationships drive growth.
I think this is especially true in light of a world forever changed by the pandemic. Living through such an unprecedented time has reinforced that we are all humans. We can't lead or care for one another without empathy and I think leaders everywhere have been reminded of this.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
When I was growing up as an immigrant in North Carolina, I often wanted to be just like everyone else. But my mother always told me: Be unique, be memorable – you have an authentic view and experience of the world that no one else will ever have, so don't try to be anyone else but you.
What does success look like to you?
I think the concept of success is multi-faceted. From a career perspective, being in a job where you're respected and appreciated, and where you can see how your contributions are providing value by motivating your teams to be better – that's success! From a personal perspective, there is no greater accomplishment than investing in the next generation. I love mentoring younger professionals – they are the future. I want my legacy as a leader to include providing value in work culture, but also in leaving a personal impact on the lives of professionals who will carry the workforce forward. Finding a position in life with a job and company that offers me a chance at all of that is what success looks like to me.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
I've always been a naturally curious person and it's easy for me to over-commit to projects that pique my interest. I've learned over years of practice how to manage that, so to my younger self I’d say… prioritize the things that are most important, and then become amazing at those things.