Enjoy this guest post by Jennifer Kahnweiler, Ph.D.!
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The Introverted Leader: Building on Your Quiet Strength
I am intrigued by the Millennial generation. As a speaker, coach, and parent of twenty-somethings, I find their energy and passion contagious and admire their entrepreneurial spirit, flexibility, and ease with technology. The challenge for many organizations is how to retain the talent of this younger cohort. Unlike their predecessors, the Boomers and Gen Xer’s, Millennial workers don’t stay around if they are not progressing and learning. Organizations cannot afford to lose this pipeline of workers. They are our future.
I believe that strong leadership and mentoring is one key to meeting this challenge. Introverted leaders are well suited to the task. As many as 40% of executives are introverted including people like Bill Gates, Colin Powell, and Andrea Jung. They get their energy from within and lead with quiet confidence.
There are four key strengths that introverted leaders can leverage in order to retain and develop Millennial workers. These are (1) One-On-One interactions, (2) Listening and Asking Questions, (3) Preparation, and (4) Calm, Reasoned Reflection.
One-On-One Interactions — Introverts prefer to communicate with one person at a time versus with groups. When leaders take the time to converse with the Millennials in their midst, they score points in building loyalty and trust. They also can generate more innovation. Tim, a 20-something colleague, shared that he enjoyed the times his Gen X boss stopped by his office to ask about his work. He told me that this interest made him more inclined to offer suggestions.
CEO Larry Page of Google does this. He schedules times to plant himself in the open area of his company’s headquarters in order to hear his young employees’ ideas. At another “Millennial centric” technology company in the Netherlands, Microsoft, the focus is on a flexible workplace. When I visited this innovative workspace I discovered many cross-generational chats occurring in numerous nooks and crannies.
Listening and Asking Great Questions — Introverted leaders tune in and really listen to people. They also ask great questions and use this information to figure out what matters to a person. In fact, a formidable research study called Reversing the Extraverted Leadership Advantage: The Role of Employee Proactivity published in the Academy of Management journal by authors Francesca Gino, Adam M. Grant and David A. Hofmann concluded that an introverted leader, “is more likely to listen to and process the ideas of an eager team.”
An ability to listen and ask great questions fits the Millennial’s craving for continuous coaching and feedback. Robert Half International and Yahoo! HotJobs polled more than 1,000 Millennials and found that over 60% wanted to hear from managers at least once a day. Introverted leaders, with their tendency to plan talking points and ask targeted questions are well poised to deliver this focused, ongoing, and high-quality feedback.
Preparation — Millennials feel stuck in companies where there is little career mobility. According to a Pew Research Center survey nearly six-in-ten younger workers (57%) say it is not very likely or not likely at all that they will stay with their current employers for the remainder of their working lives.
Introverted leaders prepare for discussions, presentations, and meetings. They can coach Millennials in preparing well thought out career plans. They can also encourage them to request skills training and introduce them to members of their own well-established networks for additional mentoring and visibility.
Chris G. is an introverted learning program manager at a large IT staffing company in Maryland. She faced a mushrooming Millennial employee population, hungry to take on new roles and responsibilities. Chris met this challenge by conducting surveys of managers and employees to determine their learning needs. Her team then partnered with the AMA to create a series of innovative leadership training classes and ongoing follow up coaching by managers.
Calm, reasoned reflection — Introverted leaders are low key and think before they speak. Even in casual conversation, they consider others’ comments carefully, and stop and reflect before responding. In times of crisis, they project a reassuring, calm confidence, and regardless of the heat of the conversation or circumstances, speak softly and slowly.
Why is this important? Their approach offers a needed counterbalance to all the busyness and multitasking of Millennials. One 26-year-old woman told me “to do one or two things at once is simply not enough…” There are more temptations than ever to engage with a noisy world. Turning off the latest “app” allows us to focus our energy and come across as less frantic. Quiet also is the space where creative thoughts and solutions emerge. Counter to the title of the popular book, Never Eat Alone, solitude is actually a good strategy from time to time.
Mentoring the next generation of leaders is one key to the future health and vibrancy of our organizations. Leadership blossoms is an open organizational culture; one that embraces quiet leadership. Introverted leaders, the quietly powerful individuals among us, have the “right stuff” to accomplish the job.
(Originally published by American Management Association February 12, 2012)
About the Author: Jennifer Kahnweiler, Ph.D. is an author, speaker, and executive coach who have been hailed as a “champion for introverts.” Her bestselling book, The Introverted Leader: Building on Your Quiet Strength, has achieved widespread appeal and has been translated into six languages including Chinese and Spanish. Her new book , Quiet Influence: The Introvert's Guide to Making A Difference will be available in March 2013. Reach her at aboutyouinc.com, theintrovertedleadershipblog.com and follow her on Twitter, on LinkedIn and on FaceBook.
Question: What additional tactics do you use to develop the next generation of workers?
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