President and CEO
From Net Assets NOW, March 14, 2017. Read past issues of CEO Notebook.
How do introverts lead in a world that conflates extroverted behavior with leadership?
On the last day in February, a room dominated by introverts found someone who spoke their language: Susan Cain, author of "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking" and the general session speaker during the 2017 NBOA Leadership Awards Lunch. I knew in my gut that Cain’s message would resonate profoundly with the group assembled, but I didn’t expect her message and insights to resound just as profoundly with me. I’ve never been mistaken for an introvert. In fact, whenever I take a leadership assessment, whether MBTI, DiSC or StrengthsFinder, none of the traits, behaviors or characteristics most commonly associated with introverts exist on my assessment. Flatline. Zero. Zilch. Nada.
As an effective leader, you need to connect with everyone on your team. As a business officer, chances are that you (and possibly a high percentage of your team) are introverts. How do you bring out their best in a world that conflates and rewards extroverted behavior with leadership? Here are some insights from Susan Cain that may help you in your role as a leader at your independent school:
Extroverted enthusiasm doesn’t help introverts participate. Extroverts may be surprised to learn that their unbridled enthusiasm and excitement in meetings isn’t as contagious as they may like to believe it is. I thought enthusiasm bred more enthusiasm, but Susan Cain’s message is quite simple: Calm down. Your high-support for (or against) an idea may actually shut some introverts down. My advice to extroverts: Voice your support (or opposition) in a constructive way, and create open space so that those who are just warming up can also get on board or express their concerns.
Group brainstorming can hinder the best ideas. Merely hearing the word “brainstorm” gets extroverts’ adrenaline pumping. Cain cited 40 years of research that debunks support for group brainstorming. A better way to generate great ideas is to give individuals the questions or challenge before the meeting and have them “brainstorm individually,” and only then share the ideas as a group. Creating a higher level of engagement with your entire team, extroverts and introverts included, not only helps ensure that all voices are heard but generates better outcomes.
Rethink networking. This hit close to home for me, especially during the 2017 NBOA Annual Meeting, but I had to agree with Cain once again. The notion of building professional connections through networking receptions — small bites, open bars, loud music and a room full of people just waiting to meet you — is wrong. And in fact, when I thought about most of my strong professional connections, they were rarely formed during these kinds of receptions. Instead, they were built over time, one by one, based on common interests and continuous connections. As much as I can hold my own making small talk during a reception, I'm not necessarily building a professional network.
This brings me to a challenge to members of the NBOA community who identify as introverts. As NBOA begins preparations for the 2018 NBOA Annual Meeting (make no mistake, it will be the largest networking event of its kind for independent school business officers and business operations staff), I want to know what kinds of networking events might be most helpful to you in building connections for your personal network. You talk (or write, or tweet). I’ll listen!
President and CEO
Jeff has been NBOA's president and CEO since March 2010. Prior to joining NBOA, he spent almost 10 years at the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO), serving most recently as senior vice president and chief planning officer. An active member of the American Society of Association Executives, Jeff earned the Certified Association Executive (CAE) designation in 2002 and was selected as an ASAE Fellow in 2008. He currently serves as a trustee for One Schoolhouse and Georgetown Day School in Washington, DC.