My boss recently told me that I am very competent and have a clear vision for my team, but in order to get promoted, I need to show a stronger personality. As a naturally introverted person, what should I do?
-Name withheld, Atlanta
First of all, we would like to express our gratitude to you for sending in a question that we’ve always wanted to answer, giving us (and our readers) a respite from thinking about the recent economic upheaval. Amen to that.
And now, back to business and a question of our own: How do you feel about the prospect of putting on a perky face and a big voice and trying to chitchat and “ho, ho, ho” your way into your team’s heart?
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Panicked? Depressed? A little of both?
Or do you simply feel worried, knowing how much people generally dislike phonies? If so, we’re with you. Competence and vision are all well and good—and congratulations on having those qualities—but the inescapable fact is that authenticity matters too. And if you take your boss’ recent advice, you’ll no doubt be quashing your own.
Except—and this is a big “except”—you have no choice. Your boss is trying to help you, and he’s right. Over time, many introverts stagnate in large organizations. They can work hard, deliver to expectations or even beyond, but rarely seem to get their due.
Note that we’re talking about big companies. Almost anyone with a great idea can soar at a start-up, and small companies often give individuals more latitude to be themselves as long as the results are there. But in a big, bureaucratic enterprise, atmospheric conditions give extroverts a marked advantage.
The reasons are myriad. Big companies are constantly looking for people to move across divisions or around the world, and extroverts, by right or not, simply appear more prepared for such opportunities. With their charisma and superior verbal skills, they’re thought to be more “out front”, able to communicate powerfully and motivate their people, especially during tough times. Extroverts also tend to make relationships with more ease—another boon in gummy environments. And finally, extroverts tend to outshine introverts in large companies because early on their outsized personalities earn them opportunities to make presentations to higher-ups, which is always a good way to accelerate the career-changing process of getting out of the pile.
Indeed, big companies are so oriented towards extroverts that introverts who stay within them often experience dynamism not unlike the one experienced by many women and minorities in a corporate environment. They have to constantly over-deliver just to stay even.
There are, of course, exceptions. Everyone can tell the story of a reserved, shy, anti-social or otherwise introverted individual who has risen through the ranks to run something big. But in every such case we know of, the introvert has something special going on, such as a brilliant, anticipatory mind for technology and its trends, an uncommon understanding of emerging markets or a unique ability to critique deals. These savants become so indispensable to their companies’ competitive success that they move upward in the ranks. Despite their differences, their value virtually demands it. Indeed, that’s why many introverts who end up in senior management positions are often the brains of their organizations, while someone else runs operations.
Now, it could very well be that you are one of those rare introverts whose competency will eventually carry the day, and you can just keep acting naturally. But if that’s not the case, we’re back to where we started. If you want to take charge of your career in your current company, you’ve gotten not just your marching orders, but sound mentoring advice. Start getting out there, mixing it up, speaking more often and connecting more routinely with your team and others in the organization while deploying all the positive energy and personality you can muster.
Will your team notice and recoil? Possibly. Remember, they’re on phoney alert. Our suggestion, though, is to go right ahead and tell them what you’re doing, which is really just trying to bring more of your inner self to the office so you can work together effectively. You might even ask for their feedback. You’d be better off to seek it. Ultimately, any and all candour you can bring to your public transformation will hold you in good stead.
Write to Jack & Suzy
Jack and Suzy are eager to hear about your career dilemmas and challenges at work, and look forward to answering some of your questions in future columns. Jack and Suzy Welch are the authors of the international best-seller, Winning. Their latest book is Winning: The Answers: Confronting 74 of the Toughest Questions in Business Today. Mint readers can email them questions at firstname.lastname@example.org Please include your name, occupation and city. Only select questions will be answered.
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