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Introverts or Extroverts as Continuous Improvement Leaders

Today’s post is from a guest blogger.  Connie Tolman has a career that has spanned the aerospace, military, medical device and biotechnology industries in Southern California.  Her career has been in Manufacturing Engineering until last year.  She implemented lean manufacturing practices in the 80’s, moved to Six Sigma with GE Healthcare in the 90’s, Lean Sigma in the early 2000’s and was introduced to Toyota Production System Lean in 2007 which is her current passion.  Connie is currently working as a Continuous Improvement Manager at a biotechnology company in San Diego.  

A friend of mind just got a job at Simpler, a very well thought of Lean Consultant Company.  To get the job he had to go through a very thorough and intense process which included Myers–Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) assessment personality tests, giving a speech to a group of professionals and review of his technical knowledge.

A brief summary of Myers-Briggs personality test  is that  it looks at these different aspects of the personality:

  • Extraverted (E) vs. Introverted (I),
  • Sensing (S) vs. Intuition (N),
  • Thinking (T) vs. Feeling (F)
  • Judging (J) vs. Perceiving (P)

He scored high on the extrovert aspect.  She said “if you had scored as an introvert, I don’t think you’d be good at continuous improvement”.  This struck me hard since right now I’m in the middle of evaluating those qualities in myself which started with reading the book Quiet:  The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain.  She now has a revolution on her hands after her TED talk by the same name – here is her website if interested  To determine where you are in the continuum, the most basic question is “How do you get energized?  From being alone in nature/reading a book or being with a group of people at a party?”

It turns out that there is a bias towards extroverts in our society.  I have found that I am mixed between the two – that is what my Meyers Briggs score says and my astrology chart also (if that means anything to any of you science types).  So, I felt inferior right off the bat.  If I can’t go in there and be aggressive and forward with people, maybe I’m not good at continuous improvement, operations excellence, whatever you call it.  If I can’t lead a kaizen with flair and good old fashioned pushiness, maybe I’m not good at lean.

Susan Cain says we are all a combination of both, but those who take a little time and think things through have great value.   It is important to be able to be the big, noticeable person but as or maybe more important to listen to others, to think things through and come up with the brainstorm that changes the way things are looked at.  We emphasize empowerment in lean which requires listening and giving away power, not taking the spotlight all to yourself.  All of these things are the qualities of an introvert.

So I think that both are needed and it is our goal as lean professionals to stretch the side that isn’t our natural strength.  Extraverts need to listen more.  Introverts need to be more of a cheerleader and be able to energize groups.

Understanding Yourself to Become a Better Leader – The Power of ‘I’

Part 1 of 4

This is part of a series of posts about understanding yourself and your personality in order to become a better leader.  There are many tools that can be used for personality assessments.  The company I currently work for uses the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).  There are many other personality assessment tools available, but I have found this tool to be pretty accurate for me.  The MBTI is broken up into 4 segments with results placing the participant in one of two categories based on the responses the the questions in the survey.  My results showed that I am an ISTJ.  Getting my results have caused me to do a lot of reflection over the last year and a half on how I can use this information to become a better leader.  I thought I would share my reflection and understanding of the results.

This is part 1 of 4 – Introverts and Extroverts

Introverts (I) – get energy through reflecting on information, ideas, and/or concepts

Extroverts (E) – get energy through interacting with people and/or doing things

My reflections have been centered around being an ‘I’.  Some of the introvert tendencies are:

  • Prefer small group or 1-on-1 interactions
  • Harder to get to know
  • Don’t feel the need to talk in social situations or large groups
  • Sharp distinctions between friends and acquaintances
  • Prefer to stay in the background

I find all this true as an introvert.  There are some advantages of this tendencies as well as disadvantages (same is true for extroverts).   One advantage I have found is my strength to build one-on-one relationships with people is very good from a coaching aspect.  I take great interest in the people that I am coaching and take a great interest in their success.  Introverts can be very good at building strong relationships that have great influence on the person they are coaching.  Where this can be a disadvantage, is it takes more time to reach a greater audience of people.  An introvert can influence a smaller number of people in the one-on-one setting but have a harder time influencing a larger group.  Influencing a larger group means coming from the background to the foreground and becoming easier to know or putting yourself out there.

There are a few of ways I have worked on influencing larger groups.  One way was to lead many kaizen events with people from many different levels of the organization.  This put in front of a large group and forced me to interact and open up with them.  I also concentrate on being an active participant during staff meetings.  A third way is to give tours/presentations about projects, lean transformations, etc….  This was very uncomfortable at first but has started to become a comfort zone with each time I do it.

I have found that as I get better at influencing with a large group, my one-on-one strength has an even bigger effect.  For example, when I participate in the discussion, even for a moment, in a staff meeting it starts my peers thinking about what I said because they know I don’t talk a lot so when I do they seem to listen.  After the meeting, they may start a one-on-one conversation that plays to my strength and now I am influencing another person that I wasn’t before the meeting.

As leaders we should be aware that just because someone is an introvert and exhibits these tendencies does not mean they are not good leaders.  Traditionally, organizations look for leaders that can command the room or are outgoing.  Don’t over look the power of the ‘I’.  They may not be the best in large group settings but with great relationships they may get everyone to follow them into battle.

Which category are you in?  I?  E?  How does your natural tendency tend to help you as a leader?  Hurt you as a leader?

Note: My post is based on my personality type being an introvert.  Extroverts can learn to have introvert tendencies just like I have learned to have extrovert tendencies.  It just isn’t natural for extroverts and takes some learning and practice like it did for me.