Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Not Just a Bunch of Wallflowers

Suddenly it seems almost fashionable to be an introvert.  Books, articles and lectures are popping up all over the place about the strengths they bring to organisations, and advice on how introverts can manage their careers seems to be becoming more sophisticated than the “pretend to be an extravert” message I’ve heard all my life. 

I’m not sure however just how far the traditional stereotypes have been broken down yet.  Mention introversion to many people, and they still think this means shy, awkward, anti-social individuals who are far less fun to be with than their outgoing, party-loving extraverted counterparts.  Most people know little about the psychological use of the terms as proposed by Carl Jung and the Myers-Briggs mother-daughter combo, for whom the difference between introversion and extraversion was not about how sociable or gregarious people are, but about whether it’s the internal or external world where they focus their attention and get their energy. 

According to the Myers-Briggs research, introverts make up about half the adult population; yet the business world still seems to have a bias in favour of extraverts.  If we take the critical management skill of networking as an example, many events and conferences place the emphasis on cramming in as much activity and meeting as many people as possible in a short space of time, which works well for extraverts but is not so great for introverts.  In recognition of this, a lot of advice is available showing introverts how to “work a room” and use these events successfully. 

On closer inspection however, some of the advice is not really about networking for introverts at all; it’s more about networking for beginners or for shy people.  Of course this can be invaluable if you are a newcomer to networking or are indeed shy, but for introverts it can sometimes be rather patronising.  It also usually boils down to tips on how to behave more like an extravert, and while this is an option, this is too close to the “fake it ‘til you make it” school of thought for comfort.  Being fake is not exactly a good starting point for getting to know people, establishing trust and developing sustainable business relationships.

Introverts need to be authentic to their own strengths rather than feel pressurised to adopt extravert behaviours.  Yes, introverts can and do learn a lot from extraverts, but then again extraverts have a lot to learn from introverts.  At the very least, it makes sense for extraverts to learn how to do business in a way that doesn’t exclude and possibly alienate half their potential contacts and customers.
Tim Schuler is a coach, facilitator and business partner. He specialises in bringing out the very best in managers, whether it’s their first management role or something they’ve been doing for a while. More information is available from www.tschuler.co.uk

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Unstoppable Leadership

I recently had a Twitter conversation that started like this:

JamesYatesUSD: What does being UNSTOPPABLE mean to you what does it allow you to do?
BetterMgr: Being unstoppable would allow me to do anything - is that a good thing? Definitely better than being unstartable though.

Being a persistent man, James went on to ask ‘what makes you unstoppable?’ and this sent my thoughts off into realms way beyond the possibilities of the odd tweet. 
In many ways I conform to the stereotype of the typical Brit, trained from an early age to be sceptical, with an inbuilt mechanism to keep excessive positive thinking in check.  The capacity to believe I could be unstoppable is just not part of my DNA, while voices in my head consistently warn me of the dangers of unbridled optimism.  So in order to explore what unstoppability might mean, and in particular what unstoppable leadership looks like, I need to put aside my natural tendency to regard such gung-ho concepts with suspicion, and temporarily silence my persistent inner naysayers.

Unstoppability seems to require three things: a compelling vision, the ability to take decisive action and the knack of remaining motivated in the face of set-backs.  Without a compelling vision, being unstoppable is not a particularly useful or desirable leadership quality.   A runaway train hurtles on regardless, causing havoc and crushing those that get in its way.  This kind of unstoppability in a leader often encourages people either to step back and wait for them to crash or run out of fuel (as they inevitably will) or to plan ways of derailing them.  A compelling shared vision on the other hand brings others on board and adds to the overall momentum.
The ability to weigh up available options and take decisive action is an important component of unstoppability.  While some people find that too many options, different perspectives or missing information leads to inertia, the unstoppable leader sifts through the contradictions and makes a decision anyway.  This is where a wise leader listens closely to their inner critical voices, or better still surrounds themselves with people who are not afraid of putting forward alternative views or pointing out the risks involved.  Being decisive is good, making informed decisions is better.  
The real test comes when obstacles start to present themselves.  The truly unstoppable leader remains motivated when things go wrong; they see challenges not problems, and find barriers energising not draining.  A certain amount of flexibility is essential, keeping the vision pure but recognising that there are various ways of achieving it. 

In answer to James’ original question therefore about what unstoppable means to me, I have to confess that it all depends what vocabulary my inner voices have chosen to use today.  On a bad day, it is synonymous with stubbornness, obstinacy, inflexibility and downright pig-headedness – qualities I have been taught to shun from an early age.   But then a little voice pipes up from somewhere to remind me that one person’s intransigence is another’s tenacity, determination and steadfastness, qualities that even the most dyed-in-the-wool Brit can embrace if not with passion (another alien concept) at least with a modicum of enthusiasm.

Tim Schuler is a coach, facilitator and business partner. He specialises in bringing out the very best in managers, whether it’s their first management role or something they’ve been doing for a while. More information is available from www.tschuler.co.uk