By Dave Crisp
One thing that worried me about my recent blog about evaluators judging personality characteristics from Facebook was whether the sheer number of "friends" someone had was being used a marker of success.
Six months into a starter managerial job, supervisors agreed individuals with the most friends "fitted in" best. That echoes what I so often heard in management or, as a former CEO of mine expressed it, “I would never hire an Icabod” — referring to the stereotypical story of Icabod Crane and the Headless Horseman — a scared, shy, introverted school teacher pictured as frightened to death by just about anybody. At the early stages, extroverts often appear more adept. But we "slow starters" can sometimes do things even better.
For those introverts out there who, like me, have had to learn to fake it to appear extroverted and avoid this sort of stereotyping, let me point to a wonderful anecdote in a new book ... and video of her speaking at TED — Susan Cain.
Cain makes a strong case that companies need introverts to balance and add valuable knowledge, sober second thought and creative innovation to their mix. She puts her case so strongly you almost wonder if she’d recommend constituting a company entirely from introverts. But even in suggesting such a thing, you can see the flaws. Unfortunately the reverse doesn’t seem to be true. Any number of hiring managers seem to think an organization composed entirely of extroverts is exactly what they want.
The most important word Cain touches on, though just once as far as I could see, is balance. We know people are all different, we know mixed teams perform better though they are a bit tougher to manage, especially if they include introverts who are less likely to fall into "group think."
But that never stopped managers describing their ideal parameters for new hires as "outgoing, sociable, gets along easily in groups" and saying, overtly in a great many cases, "don’t hire someone quiet or reserved, we just don’t have a spot for that here."
People tend to hire others like themselves. We have a vast history of promoting the most vocal, group-oriented individuals rather than the ones we have to encourage or even talk into taking managerial roles. It’s not surprising at all that the extroverts who are so often in charge tend to want others like themselves, not those mysterious thinkers as Julius Caesar distrustfully notes (in Shakespeare’s typically insightful words), “Yon Cassius has a lean and hungry look. He thinks too much.”
Of course, Cain cites laudable examples of introverts throughout history who have achieved remarkable results. We’d be surprised if 30 per cent of the population didn’t find some spots where they can contribute. So why should her pitch be necessary? Have things changed over the years as she believes? Or should they?
We introverted thinkers are often quite capable of "faking it," a concept I felt completely alone in inventing in my teens when I realized I’d have to learn to survive in a far more extroverted society than I could imagine coping with.
In time, I believe I even moved further along the scale toward actual extroversion since I accustomed myself to so many situations in which skills that seem more natural to extroverts began to seem natural for me, too. In many ways I believe I benefited by recognizing the value extroversion brings to situations and attempting to at least emulate it when needed if not actually feel it.
In some ways this is another advantage introverts have over extroverts — they can learn the value of both, whereas many extroverts seem blind to this. Perhaps that’s because we introverts keep quiet about our secret, as we tend to do about a lot of what we observe and think, lest we be recognized for the socially challenged individuals many of us are thought to be.
The key for strategic HR is we can’t allow flawed exclusionary evaluations to prevent hiring or promoting people of any class who are needed to create results, no matter what the "common opinion" may be. The key element to look for in new hires is a balanced view that appreciates what each person can contribute, not a one-size-fits-all sociable template that misses valuable potential.
Dave Crisp is a Toronto-based writer and thought leader for Strategic Capability Network with a wealth of experience, including 14 years leading HR at Hudson Bay Co. where he took the 70,000-employee retailer to “best company to work for” status. For more information, visit www.balance-and-results.com.