When Susan Cain was nine years old, her mother packed a suitcase full of books and sent her off to summer camp where she was promptly encouraged to put them away and push herself to become more ‘social’, and less ‘introverted’. It was the first of countless times throughout her childhood that she would receive the message that extroversion was not just the opposite of introversion, but was, in fact, a preferred, more valued, and idealized counterpart. In this TED Talk, Susan argues that there is a huge loss to creativity and leadership that comes with an over focus on extroversion in organizations, and that when introverts are passed over for promotions because of their reserved nature, companies may be missing out on some of their most careful, thoughtful, and creative leaders.
As a culture, it seems hard for us accept that opposing behaviours can and do exist without requiring opposing labels of ‘good’ versus ‘bad’. It’s time for organizations to start valuing the balance; to stop labelling introversion as a negative, while placing hyper-sociability (which comes with its own limitations and drawbacks to efficiency and productivity) on a pedestal. Action is not always the ideal over contemplation. Nor is collaboration always the ideal over autonomy. Solitude is often a very crucial ingredient to creativity, and the more freedom we give introverts to be themselves, the more likely they are to come up with their own creative solutions to problems, and lead organizations or teams in their own unique and valuable way.
Transformational leaders are different. They are built with a certain confident sense of themselves and others. They are not handcuffed by memories of the past or fears of the future. They are not dependent upon the tried, the tested and the true. They are adventurers, driven and motivated by the thrill of discovery, not the comforts of home. They know a ship moored at harbour is not the safest place to ride out a major storm. They know their ship is much better off being at sea when a hurricane blows through. The choices are up to the captain, and the outcome will be the direct result of the choices he or she makes.
One of the biggest challenges for any business leader is ensuring a deep and broad organization-wide understanding of the mission, the objectives and the means through which they will be obtained. The underlying thinking has to be wrapped in a rich, complete and convincing narrative that people at all levels can not only understand but relate to. This means the leader’s own perspective and way of looking at things must be sharply defined. It must then be skillfully packaged into a compelling storyboard that not only makes sense and connects the dots for others to understand but also fills in the normal gaps in comprehension that can so often block change, even long-desired change. Story telling is an essential part of leadership and communication. The ability to weave a good story is often what allows people to break from the past and take the risk of venturing into the unknown.
In a world where mindsets matter, and where our own view of the world determines our relevance and, hence, our success we need to examine just how mindsets are shaped. As the environment has changed around us, so too has the type of mindset we need from the leaders who will help guide us. There is a considerable body of evidence to suggest that one’s view of the world, and tolerance for the new and different, is directly related to the breadth, depth and diversity of our personal life experiences. The more varied your experience repertoire, the easier it is to make new connections. This is what allows the brain to form the unique new neural pathways that, in turn, allow us to connect the dots in new combinations for new solutions.
Dr. Steven F. Hayward put it very well in his book Churchill on Leadership when he described the essential aspects of Churchill’s character as a leader. He listed four key attributes – candour and plain speaking, decisiveness, historical imagination and the ability to balance detail with the big picture. It is this combination of attributes that determines whether a leader’s message resonates or not and whether his or her judgment is trusted.