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People who worked closely with Canadian railway executive Claude Mongeau in his CN days knew he loved to close his door to think – classic introvert behaviour. But when he was chief operating officer, preparing to take the helm as CEO, he began working with an executive coach. One area they focused on was developing some extroverted behaviour.

The coach gave him a clicker, similar to what a bouncer uses to keep count of people entering a nightclub. Five times a day, Mr. Mongeau had to act like an extrovert. For example, when getting in the elevator in the morning, rather than looking at his feet and thinking about how to save CN money, he would uncharacteristically reach out to others, saying hello, commenting on the weather, or thanking someone for their recent presentation.

Instead of seeming arrogant or out of touch, he became more humane and thoughtful. Riding an elevator with a CEO who says nothing and doesn’t even seem to know you exist can be a fearful excursion. You might get to your desk and call back that executive recruiter from last week. On the other hand, one who compliments you on some work – or even chats easily about the weather, mentioning recreational plans – builds connection and enthusiasm.

Mr. Mongeau shared his experience with McGill University Prof. Karl Moore, an extreme extrovert who became fascinated with the impact of introversion or extroversion on CEOs, and through his research has begun promoting a midway path known as ambiversion. After interviewing 350 C-suite executives, he estimates about 40 per cent are more on the introverted side, about 40 per cent lean toward extroversion, and about 20 per cent are genuinely ambiverts. But to be successful, more leaders have to act like an ambivert at times.

“At times, a more introverted leader has to act like an extrovert to be effective. They need to pump up the volume and show themselves to be genuinely excited about a new strategy, or a new member joining their team. They need to give that stirring speech which gives us hope of a brighter future, even after having to make cuts when revenues are down (think of hotels, restaurants and airlines during the pandemic),” he wrote recently in Duke University’s Dialogue Review.

In an interview, Prof. Moore recalls rolling his eyes when, prior to becoming Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau mentioned he was an introvert. It didn’t fit with all those selfies he eagerly took with people or his spontaneity in public. But Mr. Trudeau told him: “I love going on walks, being by myself, but I know in my job I need to reach out to people.”

Extroverts, similarly, have to cultivate their introverted side – or, at least, teach themselves some introverted behaviours. David Bensadoun, chief executive officer of the Aldo Group retail chain and an extrovert, told Prof. Moore when he goes to meetings where he wants a substantive discussion, he has learned to be quiet and listen to what everyone else has to say before he speaks. If he speaks first, it tends to eliminate all discussion, as the team is intimidated by the presence of such an extroverted and direct CEO.

A lot is tangled into this. It used to be thought a leader had to be extroverted. They were expected to be bold, confident, loud and ideally, charismatic. But these days we’re aware of the importance of collaboration – of recognizing other people’s efforts and helping them to advance even further – and the importance of deliberate reflection. To some extent these approaches have been characterized as gender-related behaviours, but Prof. Moore’s extrovert-introvert perspective is also illuminating.

It can hold true in jobs outside the C-suite. Psychologist Adam Grant and some colleagues found ambiverts make excellent salespeople because they can listen to the client – an introvert tendency – and after understanding the client’s needs, can move on to present their product or service with an extrovert’s energy and enthusiasm. Managers at levels below the top tier also need to listen and be able to sell their ideas and assignments. “I’m jealous of ambiverts,” Prof. Moore says. “I think they are better people than me.”

But his argument is that we can all be more like them, if we try – not true ambiverts, but ambiverts for short periods. Just do it in an authentic way. And if the clicker approach makes it sound easy, it’s not, because you are going against the grain.

After acting in extroverted ways, an introvert is typically exhausted. He advises them to recharge their batteries by taking “introvert breaks,” such as going for a quiet walk with the dog. After a few hours of acting like an introvert, Prof. Moore leaves his office, heading over to the student lounge or group work area, and talks with other people for the stimulation he craves. Ambiverts need breaks as well. If ambiverts act like an introvert for a while, they need an extrovert break, and vice-versa. These breaks tend to be shorter than those of more extroverted or introverted types.

So consider your tendencies and whether it’s worth investing in a clicker. Also, add extroversion and introversion and true ambiversion to the diversity elements you should be seeking for your team.

Cannonballs

  • Most feedback you deliver should be positive, argues software developer and blogger Jacob Kaplan-Moss. But you need to differentiate it from praise. Praise is simply saying the person did a “good job” or offering “thanks.” Feedback is much more specific, mentioning specific behaviour, and the impact of that behaviour. Feedback is far more valuable than praise.
  • Before hiring someone, Rick Song, CEO of Persona verification software, says you should consider all the ways he or she may not be right for your organization – the types of projects they might fumble, the kinds of people they will rub the wrong way. If that puts you on the fence over the hiring, don’t bring the person on board.
  • Family firms that move to a professional CEO and then in the next succession pick a family member for the top spot see profitability rise by 18 per cent, research indicates, perhaps because they are leveraging family assets while avoiding dysfunctional nepotism and other parochial family priorities as a result of the period of outside professional leadership.

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