Usher in the extraverts

Anne Wickham, 12 January 2016
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I’ve never met Don Watson, and I haven’t yet read his most recent book Worst Words, but I share his passionate dislike of made up words and meaningless jargon.

To me, it seems to have become even worse in recent months as start-ups and established companies alike clamour to be recognised for their agility, innovation and dare I say it – street cred. There’s been a lot of comment in academia and the press about how we are transitioning to a “new economy”, but I think there’s something more fundamental happening at a company level as well.

I reckon we’re on the cusp of recognising that extraverted leaders are more suited to current business challenges than introverted ones. In my view, it’s not just gender and racial diversity we need. We need people who think differently, who are genuinely curious about what makes their current and potential customers tick and value insights over data.

“An introvert is a person whose interest is generally directed inward toward his own feelings and thoughts, in contrast to an extravert, whose attention is directed toward other people and the outside world. The typical introvert is shy, contemplative, and reserved … The extravert, by contrast, is characterized by outgoingness, responsiveness to other persons, activity, aggressiveness, and the ability to make quick decisions.”

Source: Encyclopedia Brittanica

What I’ve noticed in my work, however, is that lawyers and accountants dominate the executive floor. They like detail, they are often risk adverse, and they are comfortable focussing most of their attention on things within their control such as managing their organisation’s resources, strengths and weaknesses. Last year I saw plenty of people spreading data over boardroom tables and staring into it like modern day tea leaves for an answer. But big data isn’t the answer. You will get far more insight talking to the person who runs the company helpline and people from your sales force.

My prediction for 2016 is that we are entering the era of the extraverted CEO who is more interested in opportunities and threats, and who is inspired to build and adapt their strategy based on what they hear from customers and other external stimuli.

So this is my advice to companies who are currently in business planning mode for 2016:

Look for ways to be extraverted. Stop navel gazing and get out in front of your customers, among your influencers and your supply chain. Ask them open-ended questions such as “what do we do that irritates you”, rather than how they’d rate what you do out of five.

Look for ways for your CEO to demonstrate and talk about what they’re passionate about rather than sprouting the agreed company line. Authenticity can’t be manufactured.

Most of all, say it like it is, because the jargon people are throwing around right now fools no-one. Your whiteboard is a whiteboard. It is not “an agile planning wall.” The four people you’ve asked to form a project team is not “an innovation lab” if they work in a way that’s not seen and not heard.

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