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This Important Skill Is Often Overlooked In Leaders

And it could be hurting business

“Great leadership requires thoughtful and meaningful communication everyday, be it one-on-ones, in teams or with large groups.” – Sally Blount, dean of Kellogg

This article originally appeared in Fortune on Dec. 15, 2015.

By Sally Bount

It’s a common fallacy that extroverts are highly talkative and interactive in social settings while introverts are not. But this isn’t the case. In fact, many introverts can work a room as good or better than many extroverts. Just because they’re introverts, doesn’t mean they’re hermits. So let’s set aside these stereotypes.

The second fallacy is that people often confuse volume of air time (whether referring to sound level or amount) with actual value. If the recent “introverts revolution” in business demonstrates anything it’s that taking time for reflection can be equally as important as talking for leaders who want to spur productivity within their teams and organizations.

Perhaps what is most important about the differences between introverts and extroverts is what those differences reveal about how the human brain resets under stress — how does it find calm when over-stimulated? In essence, does the brain naturally turn inward “intra” or does it turn outward “extra” to reset? This is important because every leader needs to understand how to most effectively charge and recharge.

But the introversion versus extroversion question is less important to effective leadership than whether one is a strong communicator, which is where the confusion comes in. Great leadership requires thoughtful and meaningful communication everyday, be it one-on-ones, in teams or with large groups. Every successful CEO I have ever met — whether its Phebe Novakovic at General Dynamics, Mary Dillon at Ulta, or Indra Nooyi at PepsiCo has said to me in some form, “It all begins with communication.” And, some of these very persuasive CEOs are self-confessed introverts. So, my advice is, no matter how you “-vert,” embrace it and use it to be more effective. When you’re preparing for a big speech or meeting, if you are an extrovert, find someone to talk your plan through as you get ready to speak. And if you’re an introvert, make sure you have enough white space in your calendar to get the centering time that you need.

- Sally Blount is dean of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.

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