Some of us are super outgoing and some are not that is how it is. Some people are born salespeople and are comfortable with public speaking. Others are software programmers, writers and have jobs in other businesses where they are more reserved in their demeanor. That is fine but if you are starting a company you will need to lead. This can be a challenge for those who are introveted. The good news is there is a solid example from the now CEO of this large internet startup who overcame it.
In this solid post from HBR they show how the CEO of Upwork did it:
Over the past decade I have worked systematically and diligently to overcome that bias—to move beyond my engineering background and gain the broad range of skills necessary to lead a business. I sought out projects and talked my way into jobs that were outside my comfort zone. I read widely to burnish my skills in strategy, leadership, and managing people. I’ve spent hundreds of hours taking online courses. Since becoming CEO, in April 2015, I’ve learned how someone with an engineer’s problem-solving mindset must adapt to perform well in this role. As technology companies become an even bigger piece of the economy, and as boards become more open to considering people with technical backgrounds for leadership roles, my journey may be instructive to others.
The main takeaways from this statement is he did two things.
First he intentionally sought out projects and jobs to push the limits of his comfort zone.
Second, he studied for hundreds of hours on how to break through this barrier. From books to courses he spent the time and effort! Here is a brief background on how he started this process and intentionally took sales jobs:
The Challenge of Being Introverted
At some point in the midst of these job changes, I took the Myers-Briggs test for the first time. The results confirmed what I’d always suspected: that I’m very strongly introverted. There’s no question that an introvert who aspires to be a CEO will face challenges. When you’re a leader, it’s useful if not necessary to be cheerful, smiling, and outgoing. That’s not easy for everyone, but it is achievable. One way to get better at it is to make concrete goals. A particularly difficult task for someone like me is to go to a big networking event or conference—where there’s a large room filled with hundreds of people I don’t know—and mingle. To make that manageable, I set goals: I’m going to talk to at least 30 people, get 10 business cards, and arrange five follow-up meetings. Because I’m competitive and results-oriented, those goals counterbalance the anxiety I feel about inserting myself into a random conversation and introducing myself. I’ve worked on the skill of starting a conversation. I’ve also worked on finding ways to say good-bye gracefully, because not every interaction at these events needs to be a long one.
So the two tips from this learning are these:
1. Because he was introverted he set goals that he had to meet and could not skate around at networking events. His competitive nature made it so he would meet them.
2. To meet these goals at events he had to talk to a lot of people. Not every interaction needs to take a long-time so he practiced how to politely transition to the next person he met!
3. Another lesson he had to learn was “emotional intelligence”. he’s a talented programmer where it is purely math but for him this skill that came naturally to some was more difficult yet necessary to work with employees:
Since then I’ve learned that the tasks and decisions facing CEOs are often much more complicated than the technical problems that an engineer encounters. A lot of a CEO’s job comes down to emotional intelligence and understanding what other people need and want. Some days I feel like the company’s chief psychologist, and I have to be emotionally prepared for that. My natural impulse when I hear about a problem is to go to a whiteboard and start to diagram how to fix it, the way an engineer would. But for a CEO that’s often not the right response. A lot of the people who bring problems to the CEO aren’t looking for a solution—they just want to feel that they’ve been heard. That isn’t always the easiest part of my job, but it is a part, so I’m learning to listen first and not see every situation as a problem that needs a solution.
In conclusion this is what he had to say:
Until fairly recently, people like me, who shifted from engineering into a chief executive role, were unusual. Bill Gates, Larry Page, and Mark Zuckerberg are well-known examples, but I think more people will make this jump in the future. The venture capitalist Marc Andreessen now says frequently that founders (many of whom have technical backgrounds) should stay on as CEOs. People are starting to realize that employees who understand in great detail how the product works may well be the best people to decide on the future of the company and to sell that story to investors and customers—even when they find that communicating with people comes less naturally to them than interacting with technology.
So working on emotional intelligence and breaking through comfort zones by intentionally taking on projects that involved that type of interaction were keys.
By setting goals to achieve at local networking events such as through meetup.com and other sites can be a way to work on becoming extroverted.
And taking on some sort of sales role or project can be the net step. And be prepared to spend the time.