Energizing

by Ron Potter

Extroversion or introversion. Where do you get your energy from?  In Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) this is known as your energizing function.  More importantly, if you’re making a decision, which side of the pair do you need to be in when you are comfortable or convinced the decision you’re making is right.  We are energized by extraversion or introversion.

Extravert or Introvert Labels

I think this pair more than any of the others has been misused when we label people.  I clearly fall on the extraversion side of this pair.  In fact, when I take the assessment I usually have the highest possible score on the extraverted side.  People often assume that extroverts talk all the time.

Even though I score the highest possible score in that area, I spend a great deal of time reading and thinking quietly.  My amazon statistics indicate that I read somewhere between 50 and 100 books a year.  I spend that time in silence.  I enjoy writing these blogs, creating visuals, both Powerpoints and animations, for my consulting work.

Every month or so I look forward to getting up to my cabin which sits in the middle of 500 acres of wilderness in northern Michigan to enjoy the quiet, solitude, time to think, and time to write.  I spend much of my time being completely quiet.  This is not a trait associated with extroverts.

However, if I’ve been thinking through a concept or a decision I have to make during this quiet time, I must talk it over with someone before I’ll make the decision I’m confident about.  If I make a decision with quiet time only, then I’m always questioning the decision.  I need to talk it through with someone.  I need their thoughts and opposing views to be sure of my decision in the end.  I am energized by my extraversion preferences!

Introverts Can Be Talkative

One of the traits of introverts is that if they’ve had time to think about a topic (which puts them into the introverted preference), they’re ready to talk.  They will be fully engaged in the conversations and willing to share their thoughts.  However, if we extraverts suddenly bring up an idea they haven’t had time to quietly think about they may go quiet.

What I’ve seen happen more often with teams is the introvert will simply repeat what they’ve already said.  It can often sound as if they are saying to us “Didn’t you hear what I just said?  Let me repeat.”  In fact, the extraverts heard what they said, this was simply a new thought.  But springing a new thought without time to quietly think about it doesn’t go over well for the introvert so they repeat what they have thought out.

How to Accommodate Introverts

Let’s face it, meetings are designed by and meant for extraverts.  Why do we have meetings?  To get together and talk.

One of the best approaches to accommodate both the extravert and introvert in meetings is for a wise moderator to:

  • Stop the Discussion
  • Ask everyone to write down what they think the three best ideas were based on the discussion
  • Give them time to write down their thoughts
  • After a reasonable amount of time, ask each member to put their best idea on the flip chart

It’s always fascinating to me to watch what happens during this “writing” time.

The introverts will do something to cut off the “chaos” in the room.  They’ll put one hand over their eyes, or they’ll turn away from the team with their pad or they might even move elsewhere inside or outside the room.  But this allows them to think.  Almost immediately the thoughts clarify and they start writing.  They’ll often write more than the requested three things and then either rank-order them or combine them.

Meanwhile, the extraverts may write the number one thing that was obvious to them.  Sometimes they’ll even write two things but they seldom get three things written down.  What do they do?  They move over to the refreshment area where the rest of the extraverts have gathered so they can talk.  By doing so, they’ll come up with their list of three and then regather at their seats.

The wise moderator then begins to go around the room and ask each person to contribute their number one item to the list.  In doing so, the moderator has essentially kept the environment on the introverted side even though people are beginning to speak.  Once the list is exhausted, the moderator will open it back up to discussion thus moving it back to an extraverted environment.

Meetings are extraverted environments.  They don’t have to dedicate 50% to talking and 50% to quiet time.  However, if you don’t build in some quiet time, you will lose the brainpower of a high portion of the participants.

I’ve often asked the introverts what happens to them as soon as they walk out of the room at the end of the meeting.  They will all say something like “I wish I had said that —It all of a sudden became so clear to me!”  What they’re saying is they didn’t have the opportunity to “think” during the meeting.

We must create an environment that allows everyone to capture their best thoughts.

Archetypes

The statistics on MBTI have proven to be the same around the world.  However, I’ve observed that each culture has its ideal of what type a great leader is or should be.

In North America, we tend to hold up the extraverts as leaders.  They should be outspoken, confident, leading through words, and ready to handle change.

In Asia, it tends to be almost the opposite. Their leaders should be soft-spoken, quietly confident, lead through action and think long term, not reacting to every change that comes along.

In an American office, if someone walks past the leader’s office and sees them sitting quietly, it’s assumed they are not doing anything so this might be a good time to interrupt them with a question.  In Asia, if the leader is seen sitting quietly, it is assumed that they are deep in thought and should not be interrupted.

Statistics

For each of the four pairs, I’ll identify the split in the US Population, Leadership Teams, and Operations Teams.

The US Population is well researched and statistically sound.  For Leadership Teams, I always used the database that I have gathered through the years.  And even though it had a couple of thousand data points and should have been valid, I was always a little hesitant to say that it indicated anything beyond my own file.  Then, one day I was able to see the database collected by the Center for Creative Leadership.  They had tens of thousands (maybe hundreds of thousands) of leaders in their database.  And to my great relief, their statics were exactly the same as mine.

Operations teams are the teams in the organization that are responsible for the rubber hitting the road.  If the company makes widgets, this team is responsible to get as many widgets out the door as fast and cheaply as possible.  The head of the Operations Team is usually part of the Leadership team.

Once we see the splits of these three data sets, it’s worthwhile to ask if there is anything to be learned.

US Population – Extraversion = 50%   Introversion = 50%

Leadership Teams – Extraversion = 62%   Introversion = 38%

Operation Teams – Extraversion = 56%   Introversion = 44%

One of the things learned here is that Leadership Teams are more extraverted than Operation Teams and a lot more extraverted than the general population.  This is a talkative bunch!

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