Monday, August 30, 2010

Sailing Ships

Introverts are rested and energized by solitude, and are very effective in solitary pursuits. An introvert is a person who prefers to process thoughts internally. Introverts tend to think before they speak. The word is also used informally to refer to somebody who prefers solitary activities to social ones, which is more of a behavioral than cognitive definition. Introverts tend to be seen as quiet and reserved, which is often confused with a lack of confidence by louder, more extroverted people. They often perform well in analytical roles that require intelligence or logic, but place less emphasis on social interactions and “people skills”. Introverts are usually a minority in the general population, and they can often be sidelined by culture or society, which in many cases favors the more common extroverted style of behavior.

Perception and judgment are the keys that invoke others not to believe that introverts can be leaders. The perception of an individual taking time to answer a question or create an internal vision of a situation creates an impression that the individual can not make decisions. People are still equating leadership with the ability to make fast decision and stand-by them even if they are wrong. This truly is one aspect of leadership and is the shining example of extroverts in the spot light. They deserve it of course. People like former Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former President Jimmy Cater are true shining examples. Even after their time in the lime-light, after what ever crisis was over, they still continue as great extroverted leaders.

So how do we as introverts change, affect or get around these issues of perception and judgment. Basically we should not be worried about them. Concerned yes, they can affect our credibility. But for the most part, the act of leading or being a leader is not to be the one that sits in the center of the circle. You can be a leader and be apart of the circle just as affectively.

Leadership is not being the boss or the one in charge. Leadership simply is affecting the world around you in a way that is consistent with the way you and others believe the world should be. So why so much focus on personality types? Well as an introvert we like things in neat little categories just as much as the others. Supposedly it helps us manage our expectations and of others.

Sailing Ships

So let’s take a look at the top most Extraverts that exists; entrepreneurs and sales people. Some of the most powerful and influential people are one of these two categories. They bring change to our every day lives and in many ways improve things for everyone.

"I never perfected an invention that I did not think about in terms of the service it might give others... I find out what the world needs, then I proceed to invent."
- Thomas Edison

During the Dot.Com era we in the technology field tried many things internal to our organizations to make us unique. The concept was to create an environment that was very attractive to the limited number of technical professionals. Many programs were created inside companies to foster the “uniqueness” of the employee and how bringing together these “unique” people a new frontier could be established. Many of the programs were very successful, however a few back-fired in unexpected ways.

I had the opportunity to apart of such a Dot.Com. The executive staff was the true entrepreneurs of the organization, as you would expect. Everyone wore the many hats of internal management, external sales and developers of new ideas. Everyone had the opportunity to take their ideas, concepts and dreams to both customers and staff. Everyone had the opportunity to be their own leader in any fashion they could.

During a process of communication improvement within the company we each identified our Myers Briggs personality type. The concept was that with so much change as a constant within the organization, we needed to make sure we could at least talk to each other. On one office, a wall of communication was created where each person was listed under there personality type. We each learned the basics of our own personality type and of others we actively communicated with.

As expected, most of the organization fell into just a couple of the personally types. Specifically these types were ENFP and ENFJ. Now “The Inspirer” (or ENFP) are very enthusiastic and live in the world of possibilities. Like many entrepreneurs I have run across, the ENFP in the Dot.Com felt that the details of everyday business were seen as trivial drudgery. ENFP are great at getting people to rally and heading towards a common goal. They are very talkative and have a perception of what the future can hold that is very clear and distinct. This can lead to trouble. They relay on intuition that is judged to be accurate, but is flawed by not carrying through to the details.

ENFJ (or “The Giver”) are similar to ENFP with one major separation. While they similarly focus on the external parts of their world, ENFJ judge things against their own set of values. Wonderful people persons, they like to focus on how to make the world better for people. Their people skills are so keen that they could sell you almost anything. But they keep themselves personally closed in and only influence things using the strong personal set of values that they have. ENFJ never forcefully influence you where it would upset your own personal feelings, just a kind and guiding movement towards a set of values.

I myself fell into a personality types that was as far from the balance of the staff as possible. INFJ (also known as “The Protector”) represent only 1% of the population and utilize internal intuition. When dealing with things externally we use a sense of order and systematic approach. However, when we make decisions INFJ still rely on our internal intuition and many times are spontaneous in our decision making. We just internally know when something is right and have little reason to back the decision.
You could say that I spend a lot of time trying to define and examine systems. Everything operates and exists through some sort of system. I like to identify where those systems can be improved, however when I reach a conclusion for improvement I have little factual basis to back it up. This is because as an INFJ, I naturally use intuition to help me discover new possibilities. It makes me appear spontaneous and a little hap-hazard. However, I am usually right on the mark.
Now this can also backfire on me at times. Because I trust more in my intuition above everything, I can become stubborn. This comes out in either staying focused on the “Big” picture or immersing myself into the details. This happened once while at the Dot.Com. During a period close to the end of life for the company, I was noticing that there were not any new client projects coming up. I went to the COO and asked what the plan was. Now the typical response was that we (the company) would continue to thrive and always find new clients. My instincts were telling me that we needed more than just the company tag line and hope to get new clients.
So I pressed the COO. The more I pressed the more irritated he became. Soon I was visited by the VP of human resources. The complaint was that I was becoming discontented and contrary to the normal flow of the organization. Seems my pressing for some sort of business plan was not only annoying the COO, but several others on the executive team. The concern was that I was too deep in the details of others and not focusing on my own responsibilities. Now this argument would normally hold water, as I typically am only involved in the infrastructure of organizations.
However, in this organization I managed to create a revenue stream from the infrastructure. Leveraging the infrastructure, we were able to perform a small amount of charge back to clients. This allowed us to cover the costs of some operational costs and staff costs. So my inquiries about plans for the business future in my mind were justified.
Things continued to get worse as the original disagreement was lost and things started to become personal. We just ended up not liking each other. I was so bad that the COO and I stopped talking for two weeks. I knew this was not a good situation and something had to be done. I was waiting for the senior of us (the COO) to take a first step in correcting the situation, however it never came. My frustration slowly became anger and then I was indeed discontented. So I did the only thing that I could think of, I invited him to dinner.

Crew rowers have an expression when the ors of the boat are all in the water and everyone is paddling. Specifically this condition occurs when no one is paddling together, causing the boat to sway back and forth. It’s called; “’To Turtle The Boat”.
The dinner definitely started out that way. We started with some very small talk about sports and the weather. Then that uncomfortable silence crept in and we started to lose interest again in talking to each other. Then he asked me why I asked him to dinner. My response was that I acknowledged that we did like each other, but that somehow we still needed to work together. I guess my very frank and straight forward response was not something he was prepared for. He was after all, a people person. He was not very forthcoming on his own perspective, but did agree that we needed to make a conscience effort towards each other.
Thinking at the end of the dinner that I had indeed “flipped the boat” I went home thinking that all was lost. However, over time and with a little patience, we did indeed end up talking again and working very well together. The simple act of showing him that I too knew something was wrong, allowed both of us to learn and grow. I was able to lead both of us to a new level for our professional relationship.

Notice: posts will have the highlights of projects that I have been apart of or have managed. Some of these examples have been fictionalized to make certain points. The examples are not a complete rendering of all the events of any project, example or actual event. Nor are they intended to be a factual accounting of events in a project, example or actual event. The examples of projects are to inspire and provoke thought on how anyone of us would have handled the situation. My intention is to highlight those "moments" where doing things one way or another might have changed the end of the story. This is done in an open and learning format where I hope we can all continue to learn together.

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