There are days when it’s just not obvious what the subject of the next weekly Savvy Director blog should be. So, we happily welcome reader suggestions.
A couple of weeks ago, Jim sent an email with a link to an article from The Globe and Mail, ‘Introverts, time to add some extrovert skills into your repertoire.’ The gist of the article is that, to be effective, introvert leaders sometimes need to act like extroverts.
Jim’s comment was, “Interesting article. You may wish to write about introverts/extroverts at the board level on your blog.”
He was right. This is an interesting topic to explore. Which director is savvier – the introvert or the extrovert?
As it turns out, the ambivert has an advantage over both.
Our personality traits play a huge part in all facets of our lives, and the boardroom is no exception. One of the most important of these traits is that of introversion/extroversion. Keeping in mind that few people are either 100% introverted or 100% extroverted – almost everyone falls somewhere on a continuum – here is a quick description of the two personality types:
So then, what is an ambivert?
Think of introversion and extroversion as a spectrum, with ambiversion lying somewhere in the middle. Ambiverts have both introverted and extroverted tendencies. The direction ambiverts lean toward varies greatly depending on the situation.
Board members are often asked to give their opinions on important subjects with less-than-complete information, and typically in compressed timeframes. This is an ideal situation for extroverts to dominate – and that’s what they normally do. The result is that a few people – the extroverts - do most of the talking.
“A boardroom is an extrovert’s paradise.” – Fred Crawford, Advice For Board Introverts: Lean In
The introverts hold back, thinking through the issue, considering pros and cons, and keeping their own counsel. Research shows that introverts are more likely than extroverts to incorporate careful analysis into their risk evaluation. That makes recruiting introverts on boards a good risk management strategy. A balance of introverts and extroverts is optimal.
“The perspective [of introverted board members] can be summarized as follows: ‘Much of what is covered in board meetings is not important enough to merit my taking the time to contribute, and much of the air space is being taken by the same few people. If and when I have something to say, I will say it.’ – Fred Crawford, Advice For Board Introverts: Lean In
Normally, letting extroverts dominate a boardroom discussion won’t likely pose a major problem for the board’s ability to serve its purpose. But there are times when diversity of thought matters greatly, and at such times boards must be especially vigilant in managing the introvert/extrovert dynamics that can prevent that diversity.
For instance, when the topics under discussion involve strategy, and a robust conversation would be most beneficial, the dominant voice of extroverts will result in the board arriving at important decisions by drawing on just a fraction of the insights and expertise embodied in the members.
And, during turbulent times like these, the natural tendencies of both introverts and extroverts are exaggerated. When the stakes are high, extroverts seek even more interaction and engagement, while introverts become even more thoughtful, reflective and quiet.
What if the board members are not in a boardroom at all, but on a video screen? How do the realities of virtual meetings affect introverts and extroverts on the board?
One silver lining of the pandemic is that introverts are finding it easier to speak up during video meetings. Their contemplative nature and likelihood to prepare can work to their advantage. And they thrive by being asked their thoughts as the board chair naturally goes around the virtual room in an organized way.
For introverts, the structure and control of video conferencing can be comforting. The virtual meeting format lends itself to a single speaker, allowing everyone to finish their thoughts. Instead of interrupting or talking over others, board members naturally take turns.
But there are a few challenges for introverts. For one thing, introverts prefer to control who is in their personal space. A long video call with multiple faces can feel draining. And introverts tend to become uncomfortable with the pauses and silences that emerge between speakers.
The toll of video meetings is harder on extroverts, who need more external stimuli to recharge their batteries, The video format does not provide the same visceral feedback as a live conversation, so it is less satisfying.
Body language and other visual cues are weaker in a virtual meeting, and that can weigh on extroverts, because they excel in – and get reward from - processing bodily cues. Extroverts end up using more focus and not getting the same reward from talking heads as they do from a live interaction.
Extroverts tend to chafe at the structure that virtual meetings impose. Functions such as muting control the conversation in a way that doesn’t happen with in-person conversations.
There’s an important role for the board chair, or committee chairs, to play in ensuring that extroverts don’t dominate the conversation and that introverts are heard from. But first, they need to understand the personality profiles of their board members. That’s where psychometric testing can be very helpful.
These tests – there are many different ones available – will reveal not only where directors fall on the introversion-extroversion spectrum, but many other personality traits as well. If directors are willing to share this information, it helps them understand where their fellow board members are coming from. This enables directors to engage more thoughtfully and respectfully with those on the opposite end of the spectrum. The effect on boardroom dynamics can be very positive.
How can boards make sure that all ideas have been brought to the table, and that all voices – whether introvert or extrovert - have been heard? Here are a few ideas:
Ambiverts have a distinct advantage over true introverts and extroverts. Because their personality doesn’t lean too heavily in either direction, they have a much easier time adjusting their approach based on the situation. This enables them to connect more easily, and more deeply, with a wider variety of people.
But here’s the thing - we can all be more like ambiverts, if we try – maybe not true ambiverts, but ambiverts for short periods when we need to be. Introverts can deliberately call up their more extroverted side, and vice versa.
Most board directors have already learned these lessons in their professional careers, but maybe they haven’t thought about it in the context of the boardroom (virtual or physical). One thing a savvy director can do is to apply the ambivert advantage to their board meeting PREP. This involves identifying ahead of time which items they can add the most value to.
After acting in extroverted ways, an introvert is typically exhausted. They can recharge their batteries by taking introvert breaks, such as going for a quiet walk. After a few hours of acting like an introvert, an extrovert needs an extrovert break - talking with other people for the stimulation they crave.
And so, a board meeting where everyone is trying to act like an ambivert can be quite tiring for introverts and extroverts alike. That’s why, after an in-person board meeting, extroverts are eager to go for lunch or dinner. For them, one of the hardest things about virtual meetings is the loss of social contact with their fellow directors.
Introverts, on the other hand, look forward to the drive home alone after the board meeting. For them, the lack of social interaction after a virtual meeting is not really a problem.
True ambiverts need breaks as well. If they act like an introvert for a while, they need an extrovert break, and vice-versa. These breaks tend to be shorter than those of more extroverted or introverted types.
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Scott Baldwin is a certified corporate director (ICD.D) and co-founder of DirectorPrep.com – an online hub with hundreds of guideline questions and resources to help prepare for your next board meeting.
Share Your Insight: In your experience, what’s a good method to ensure a balance of introvert and extrovert views are heard at the board table?