“Discard the assumption there is an inherent disadvantage to being an introvert,” he said. “Rather, turn it around and look at the potential advantages of being an introvert and how introverted HR leaders can maximise their effectiveness.”
There is no compelling research that says leaders are inherently more successful if they are extroverted, Grubb said. In fact, the CCL’s database of MBTI scores list 58% of c-suite executives as extroverts and 42% as introverts.
“The main conclusion should not be there are more extraverted top leaders than introverted ones. While that’s strictly true, an equally true and probably more useful conclusion is that fully 42% of the successful top leaders we work with are introverts.”
Those folks are definitely doing something right, he added.
It is important to remember that introversion and extraversion are preferences rather than mental conditions, Grubb said. This means people have a natural tendency to think, feel or behave in a certain manner.
“All of us have preferences about a lot of different things, but we’re not invariably stuck with immutable habits. Successful leaders don’t need to change their preferences, but they can choose to control their behaviour and act intentionally, to not allow preferences alone to take charge of what they say and do.”
Ultimately, success hinges far less on what you prefer and more on what you do, he said.
“Good leaders typically have pretty broad tool-kits and flex to the needs of the situation. Often, extraverted-like behaviours work well; other times, introverted-like behaviours are more likely to achieve a good outcome.”
The key actionable recommendation for introverted HR leaders, Grubb said, is to know your defaults and make behavioural choices conscious and intentional. Paying attention to the actual impact of your behaviour and learning from this experience can then help broaden your options going forward.
Introverts can also take advantage of their unique personal qualities, he said. Introverts tend to be quiet, reflective and deliberative. They also typically gravitate toward one or a few others instead of larger groups, and gain energy from solitary rather than social pursuits.
“Taking these as a whole, the quality that comes to mind for me is ‘good listener’,” Grubb said. “I’m willing to suggest that good listening may be a potential, default strength upon which introverts can build. Be the ‘chief listening officer’ in your organisation.”
This doesn’t need to be complicated, he said. Simply ask questions, pay close attention, and decipher the most important themes, content, feelings and values.
“Listen not only to top leaders, but also to people one, two, or multiple levels down in the organisation. Allow yourself to build trusted relationships one person at a time. Use the comfort of that individual connection to build what will become a broader network of multiple people.”
The introverted HR leader will then have to figure out how to leverage and share that information.
“Don’t fall into the introverted trap of doing all that thinking and planning all by your lonesome,” he warned. “There is no need to vet ideas with lots of people, but one or two trusted colleagues can help you sharpen your ideas, monitor your blind spots, and extract the nuggets.”
Finally, it is important for introverted leaders to clearly understand their own assets and consistently bring those to the table if they wish to grab the attention of the CEO.
“Ask yourself: How do I regularly add value? And, even better, ask if that value is something offered by few, if any, others at the top of the organisation.”
Because CEOs are unfailingly busy, they will need trusted advisors to contribute unique and compelling value-add to deliberations and decisions, he added.
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When thinking about whether introverted HR leaders can succeed, a real mindset shift is required, said Ted Grubb, senior faculty member at the Center of Creative Leadership (CCL) and lead trainer in the Center's Leadership At the Peak Program.