An Extrovert Leading Introverts
Many CEOs are extroverts, and I am no exception. Extroverts often gravitate toward leadership roles. We seek connection with others and thrive when we can harness our colleagues’ collective ideas, motivation, and passion. We don’t mind the attention and enjoy pumping people up. But, the majority of my Sift Science colleagues are introverts. I’ve learned a few valuable lessons from leading and guiding a team that is unlike me.
Extroverts and introverts operate differently. While I’m energized by open, in-the-moment brainstorming and discussion, introverts often prefer quieter settings and sitting with their thoughts before sharing. It can be difficult for the two groups to find common ground and productively collaborate. In my earlier years, my colleagues looked bewildered as I riffed and rattled off ideas in real time. I’d feel frustrated when they wouldn’t respond at my pace.
But, I soon realized that just because a teammate is quieter than me, it doesn’t mean they can’t or won’t contribute. I needed to adapt and employ tactics that work for both styles. For example, I now ask colleagues to come prepared with specific thoughts in advance of a meeting. I use phrases like “take some time to think about it” and pause after saying something to give others room to digest. I expanded my worldview to accommodate and welcome employees with different communication styles. I now realize that neither style is good or bad, it just is. Diversity of people and styles is healthy.
Clarity vs. Impact
Although these qualities can be found in all types of people, I’ve noticed a pattern among extroverts and introverts. While extroverts often act with urgency and seek to break new ground, introverts often employ a more methodical and patient approach. Introverts tend to bias towards clarity and thrive on clearly defined goals. Extroverts tend to bias towards impact, making things happen despite ambiguity. Both approaches are dual pistons in a healthy cultural engine — without one or the other, you move too recklessly or you get nothing done. The balance of yin and yang couldn’t be more important. In my own path, I’ve learned to take a step back when decisions tend to be higher stakes and more irreversible. I encourage my colleagues to take an iterative, action-oriented mindset when it’s relatively cheap to fail — as General George S. Patton said, “A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.
Diversity as a Strength
Culture is collectively owned and cultivated by your tribe. Whether you want it to or not, it will evolve. As a CEO, all you can do is mindfully guide its evolution. You’re the drummer on a dragon boat — your job is to establish a rhythm, but ultimately, the boat’s progress is in the hands of your rowers. I can’t change the fact that the majority of my team are introverts. It would be a mistake to even try. Six years after starting our company, I realize that it is a gift to work with those different from me. I am more aware of my biases and behaviors, and I’ve added new dimensions to my leadership, communication, and collaboration skills. Our complementary strengths makes our whole team greater than the sum of its parts — and that’s the magic of a team.