“Your visions will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.” C.G. Jung
It’s still a widely held assumption, that extrovert personalities make for better leaders. Being communicative, outgoing and holding strong points of view are abilities widely regarded as favorable for hiring leaders, and for promotion. Throughout my corporate and agency career I have experienced it myself — our systems tend to be biased towards those who are good at getting into the spotlight.
At times this can lead to moth-like behavior. Swarms of aspiring leaders and career climbers fluttering around their superiors. Blinded by those who are most visible within their span of awareness, leaders can often go for the obvious choice. It becomes a system that replicates itself, leading to a lack of diversity in leadership teams. A lack of diversity of thought, personality and approach. In times of crisis, times like these, this can be detrimental.
Whilst there is research to support the belief in the extrovert leader, newer research and current thinking around creative leadership suggest a more differentiated view. For example, in a 2010 HBR article, Wharton Professor and modern leadership expert Adam Grant and behavioral scientists Francesca Gino and David A. Hofmann, offer a different perspective based on their scientific research. They suggest that, especially in times of uncertainty and dynamic, unpredictable circumstances, the introverts are often the more effective leaders.
In calmer times, when there is less complexity to handle, and when the course of action is clear, a leader’s objective might be more focused on directing the workforce for maximum efficiency. That’s the environment that plays to extrovert strengths and is more forgiving when this results in taking over discussions, commanding the centre of attention or becoming victims of one own’s confirmation and status-quo bias.
But what if the context changes like currently through Covid19?
Hardly anyone can assume that doing business as usual will continue to be successful. No leader has been here before, no one can absolutely know what the right thing to do is. However, in the absence of a clear plan, many are jumping to conclusions about what the post Corona future will be. LinkedIn and other platforms have become even noisier with countless opinions of what any possible industry or business relationship will be like. A world of extroverts shouting to get their attention share and still trying to lead the discussion?
So what about the ones we don’t hear?
A lot of the answers about how to respond to this crisis lie within
“In order to understand the world, one has to turn away from it on occasion.” Albert Camus
Leaders who can resist the (panic) impulse and turn inwards — within themselves, their teams, their organisations — instead of looking for answers outside might gain an advantage right now. Because actions based on false assumptions about ourselves or the world (or a post Covid19 era) will not lead to a better future.
More than ever for most of us, this is a time to learn, not a time to know.
And my prediction is that it won’t be those who were fastest in responding that will return stronger, but those who were most receptive to reflection. If you don’t learn something from this period, then you are probably not paying attention. And learning starts with inquiring about yourself. Whether that is as a person or as a business. Meaning in life — and in business, I believe — often comes from how we respond to adversity. It is often difficult to see ourselves clearly through the fog of busy work lives and automatic routines and even harder to break through our default systems and formed habits while we are running on autopilot on the chase of admiration and success or fleeing from stress.
Therefore, in chaos and the absence of our often unconscious normality lies a huge opportunity — for us as individuals, as businesses and as a society. It is widely accepted that adversity provide a great lever for creativity, so much so that many creative exercises artificially create limitations to foster new ideas. The same, I believe, is true for self-realisation. By using this ‘shock to the system’ to inquire about ourselves, we can find new meaning and new strength to pave a new course of action.
Put introspection before external realisation
Whilst we are typically on one side of the introvert-extrovert spectrum, and the extrovert types dominate in the leadership positions, the good news for those who are naturally more extroverted is that everyone can shift focus to her or his introversion capabilities and you don’t have to do this alone! Do it with your team or colleagues or family and friends.
Just by focusing on practicing the introvert characteristics of being a good listener and showing more receptivity to suggestions you will also support finding better answers through the cognitive diversity that surrounds us all. And by looking deeper within your very own reality as a person or organisation, you will illuminate more clarity about how to respond to the unexpected.
Here are some guiding questions we like to use in our introspection sessions which can help you to gain important insights about yourselves and leave you with a clearer picture of how to go forward:
· What have I/we seen about myself/ourselves during this time? · What do I/we really need? · What might I/we do without? · What parts do I/we need/want to let go of? · What feels incoherent? · What parts of me/us do I/we need to restore? · What do I/we want to achieve/create? · How can I/we awaken to my/our power?
Introverts and extroverts can make equally good leaders, but the different strengths are more effective at leading different kinds of people and situations. And since this is a time of great uncertainty, leaders will do well to dial up their introvert skills and to look inside for the answers they and their organisations need in order to go ahead.