Not all successful CEOs are extroverts - Part 2

(Below is from an article in USA today, June 7, 2006, by Del Jones.)

Typing test

Research on introverts and extroverts in leadership goes back at least to World War II and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator®, a personality test now given to about 2 million people a year.

Introverts are not shy by definition, but they become drained by social encounters and need time alone to recharge. Extroverts, on the other hand, are energized when with people and find time alone to be draining. Extroverts typically have many friends. Introverts prefer to know a few people well, which fits many CEOs who often say that it’s lonely at the top and that they confide in a small circle of friends.

It’s not fully understood why some people are introverts and others extroverts. The ratio is changing over time. CPP (formerly Consulting Psychologists Press) is the publisher of the Myers- Briggs assessment and has testing data going back 50 years. It plans to release research showing younger generations are becoming increasingly extroverted. Those born before 1964, including baby boomers, are split about 50-50 between introversion and extroversion, but 59% of Generation X (born 1965-81) are extroverted, as are 62% of Millennials (born after 1981).

Introversion might be partially explained by culture, genetics and upbringing. More men are introverts than women. Masatoshi Ono, who resigned as CEO of Bridgestone/Firestone during the tire scandal of 2000, lived in Nashville for seven years but was practically unknown even by neighbors when he returned to Japan. Avon Products CEO Andrea Jung told USA TODAY in a rare interview in 2000 that she is not shy, but grew up in a traditional Asian household and was, therefore, “reserved.”

Jim Collins, in his 2001 bestseller Good to Great, was one of the first to dispel conventional wisdom that successful leaders climb to the top because they’re naturally outgoing. He found that the most successful companies rarely had so-called celebrity CEOs, but rather had CEOs who were self-effacing and humble to a fault. Charisma was a handicap, he concluded.

A study of 2,300 people in 12 industries released last week by Cleveland human resources firm PsyMax Solutions looked at “sociability,” or the ability to relate to others in a “highly- engaging, expressive and lively style,” says PsyMax CEO Wayne Nemeroff. Extroverts would score high in sociability. “They’re almost the same thing,” Nemeroff says.

The median sociability score for division heads and vice presidents was 72.2, slightly higher than the median score for all workers. But sociability among the 242 CEOs was much lower at 57.9, suggesting that if sociability leads to early success, it may be an impediment to those trying to take the last step up the ladder, Nemeroff says.

A separate PsyMax study of 240 presidents, CEOs and chief operating officers found creativity to be the one trait most common to highly successful executives. Past research, not associated with PsyMax, has shown introverts to be among the most creative people.

The sociability study also found scores vary widely by industry. Those in the insurance industry scored a median 78.8. Those in research and scientific industries scored a median 18.4.

In just-published research in the Academy of Management Journal, lead author Brad Agle of the University of Pittsburgh uncovered little that would discourage introverts from aspirations of climbing to the top. The study followed 128 large companies for an average of 11 years and asked 770 top managers to rate their CEOs (some of whom are now former CEOs) on charisma. Among those examined were Dan Amos of Aflac, John Bogle of Vanguard, Paul Allaire of Xerox, Bill Marriott of Marriott, Christie Hefner of Playboy Enterprises, Robert Johnson of Black Entertainment Television, Wayne Huizenga of Blockbuster and Tony O’Reilly of H.J. Heinz. Confidentiality agreements prohibit Agle from saying which CEOs scored high in charisma. The study found that the charismatic CEOs make more money, but make no difference to corporate performance.

Charismatic and extroverted aren’t precise synonyms, but there is a close association, Agle says. “You don’t have to be this big, magnanimous, extroverted, charismatic CEO. I think my study is good news for introverts.”

However, an unscientific online survey by TheLadders.com job site for USA TODAY of 1,542 senior-level managers making at least $100,000 a year found that only 6% think introverts make better CEOs, vs. 47% who say extroverts are better. A sizeable 47% say it makes no difference and that other factors matter more, but 65% say introversion is an impediment to climbing the ladder.

Shyness = wisdom?

In some organizations introverts might not rise because they are seen as uninspiring, but the same personality trait is embraced elsewhere as calm, unemotional and wise. Scherpenseel says he often stays quiet at meetings while others debate into exhaustion. When he finally weighs in, the room falls quiet with attention.

“Shyness, if you know how to use it, can masquerade as wisdom,” says executive coach Francie Dalton. Effective introverts can get away with saying little, but they must speak up at some point, she says.

Introverts aren’t necessarily reclusive. Vic Conant, CEO of motivational tape company Nightingale-Conant, says he’s an introvert who enjoys cocktail parties as long as he gets to be the person asking, not answering, questions.

Home Depot CEO Bob Nardelli sounded energetic during an interview with USA TODAY last month. Does it come naturally? “You just kind of develop it over the years. I don’t think I was born this way,” Nardelli says. Is he an introvert? “Even if I said I was, the first person you asked would say no.”

Nardelli has dined with both Gates and Buffett and says he doubts if sitting home alone at night in Omaha reading annual reports is a sign that Buffett is an introvert. “I think he’s just a passionate businessman. I think Bill Gates is the same. He’s just a very enjoyable guy,” Nardelli says.

SkyeTec, in the business of evaluating homes and buildings for mold and water damage, was the fastest-growing private company in Jacksonville when it surged from $1.4million in revenue in 2003 to $7.2 million in 2004.

CEO Uhland says he brings a lot of energy to work and that most of SkyeTec’s 100 employees will be “baffled” to read that he is an introvert. “In meetings, I look at myself and say: ‘What are you doing?’ It’s not faking it. It’s a skill I’ve learned,” Uhland says in a phone interview from his car.

Given a choice, Uhland says he would prefer down time with his family. But he expects his receptionist to greet people with a smile even when she doesn’t feel like it. Likewise, he attends cocktail parties and does interviews out of a sense of duty.

“No offense,” he says, “but I’d rather be driving down the road listening to music.” — Contributing: Greg Farrell

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