The Power of Leading Quietly

Adam Grant the Power of Leading Quietly – Wharton

53 Min

My presentation on an alternative—and remarkably effective—approach to leadership at the Wharton Leadership Conference in 2012.

Unique ability to translate theory into practical, instrumental solutions

Talk about being quiet = a bit of a paradox

Call center – turnover of 400% (whole staff every 2 months – re-hire, re-train, re-motivate)

Success rate of calls = 1% -> 99% rejections

He as a consultant – Can’t make it any worse

What to do?

  • Give them more autonomy in their script?
  • Give them more variety in their task? Other things than calls on the phone
  • Give them $ incentive? Illegal; write down fake donations, get compensation, quit
  • What else can you do?
    • Forget about motivation and retention
    • Just try and get them to stay on phones
    • Sign (not shown) which one of callers had posted at his station ->
      help the callers understand how their jobs make a difference
      • Where does the money they raise actually go?
        • Support for new buildings
        • Athletic teams
        • Student scholarships
      • Student scholarships is where the motivation is at
        • Statistics of what they have already raised
        • Noble purpose
      • Experiment
        • Two groups (given motivational material or not)
        • Data of their time on the phone etc.
        • Productivity (revenue they brought in)
      • Results
        • Callers given motivational material -> went down! In every metric imaginable
        • Problem: inability of managers to give a really good motivational speech
        • Challenge that leaders face
          • Right message from wrong source?
          • Who could be more inspiring?
          • Scholarship students tell their stories?
            • From different walks of life
            • From different areas of the world
            • Studying different topics
        • Managers say that’s way to inefficient – I’ll give you five minutes to motivate callers
          • So he looks for the most dynamic scholarship student he can find
          • He’s not expecting much
          • Got tripling of metrics and it lasted throughout the month
          • 170% increase in revenue
        • Tries it again with a normal scholarship student
          • She was shy and hardly audible
          • Effect was 2 ½ times stronger
          • 400% increase in money raised
          • It’s easier to empathize with someone who visibly has a real need
            • If she didn’t get this scholarship, she’s going nowhere in life
            • Other one would be fine either way
          • Also authenticity
            • First one was slick and smooth and polished
            • Second one, you know she’s speaking from the heart
      • 5 minute intervention => 400% increase in productivity
        • They never once had to hear from a leader
        • Why don’t leaders think about other sources of inspiring messages?
        • Why is this common sense and not common practice?

Self-test (rate yourself on these items – 0 = I am never this way, 10 = I am always this way)

[test not shown – apparently there were 10 questions, so the score will be between 0-100]

It’s an assessment of: extraversion – introversion

Above 55 -> extravert

45-55 -> ambivert

Below 45 -> introvert

What does it mean to be introvert vs. extravert?

  • Where you get your energy
  • How neocortex processes stimulation
    • Neocortex
      • Processes stimulation
      • Helps govern will power and self-control
    • It’s aim = optimal arousal (point where you are fully engaged)
      • In the zone
      • Focused
      • On
      • Happy
    • Above that point -> overload
    • Below that point -> boredom (under-stimulated)
    • In the optimal zone we ware most effective
  • Introverts and extraverts have opposite ways of getting there
    • Extraverts
      • Start low and
      • Seek out arousal
        • One way is to become center of attention

Social attention is the most stimulating thing that can happen in life (beats sky-diving and rock concerts)

  • It raises your arousal and helps you get engaged
    • Extreme introverts
      • Start out way over level of optimal arousal
      • To get to the same point of engagement, you’d actually be trying to reduce stimulation
        • Try to fade more into the background
    • Ambiverts start out in the right place
      • default setting = engaged
      • gives you more flexibility
        • can be more introverted or extraverted
        • without getting burned out or bored

  • Distribution is like a bell curve
                (normal distribution
                –> most of the population lies in the middle – extremes are rarer)
    • 96% of American leaders score on the extraverted side of the spectrum
    • only 4% below the midpoint

This is why nobody thinks to bring in the scholarship student

Leader = extravert -> feel they need to be center of attention

  • look at top 25% -> supervisors
    • look at top 85% -> top leaders
      • every level you climb up the hierarchy
        -> you get more and more extraverts
        • being attracted to that role
        • being selected into leadership positions

  • What are the consequences of that?

Some people define extravert as “enjoy being a leader,” because the two are so entwined

And they are more successful, but only for stores where employees are good followers

i.e. “looking for direction from above”

– dutiful

– listens well to you

Extraverted leaders are great at motivating good followers

Vs. Employee who takes the initiative to lead but not from a leadership role

  • “pro-active” employee
    • Brings in ideas and suggestions
      • May have better set of work processes and methods
      • Might challenge status quo
      • Might also cause some kind of improvement in organizational function
    • The more unpredictable the economy becomes, the more we need pro-active people in our organizations
      • Impossible for leaders above to recognize all the things that are going on below them
      • So we need people to drive change from below
      • So we need them
        who leads them more effectively?
        • The introverts ?
        • Or the extraverts?
    • When you have a lot of pro-active employees -> introverted leaders get higher profits than extraverted leaders
      • Doesn’t mean all introverted leaders lead pro-active employees well
      • But extraverted leaders are ineffective with group of self-starting, motivated employees
  • Why?
    • Extraverted leaders are threatened by other person being center of attention
    • Reluctant and employees feel they are resisting their ideas
      • Discourages them from contributing
      • Discourages them from benefiting from ideas that come from below
    • A real power struggle
    • Benefits from leading in a more introverted and quiet way?
      • By doing employees’ job for a while, so you can see how it is and they can see you doing it
      • Leading by doing or leading quietly
      • Behavioral integrity = consistency between your words and your deeds
      • Asked himself: did he really need to act like an extravert to be an effective leader?
    • It’s okay for an introvert to act like an extravert, as long as you have access to a “restorative niche,” where you can be your introverted self.
      • Reading
      • Writing
      • Responding to emails
      • Reduces level of stimulation from overload back to optimal
    • Think about developing what Brian Little calls a “second nature”
      • First nature – biological and genetic basis, where you start from
        it’s hard to change
      • Second nature – comfortable role that we walk into
        stepping out of reality based character, but doing it in service of a set of values that I really believe in deeply
      • Need both
        • Introverted leaders who can act as extraverts when needed and have a space to retreat to when they need to re-charge
        • Extraverted leaders who know how to dial down that style when interacting with pro-active employees and create space for them to demand the center of attention

  • Things that you might be able to do to lead more quietly (and he is quiet for a while)
    • 10% time doing what they are doing; putting your money where your mouth is
    • Outsourcing inspiration – testimony of effect of your work
      John Deer – meet farmer that ordered it, give him the keys and see him use it
      • Facebook – users and focus groups – share stories with engineers – regular event
      • Volvo Club – Volvo saved my life club – recorded
      • Wels Fargo – boost in sales
      • Medical world – Isr. Radiologist – scan X-ray find incidental findings – some get better, some worse; photo of patient, empathize, 12% longer reports and diagnostic accuracy goes up by 46%
        take that photo away, drops by 46%
        whether you had photo first or second determines whether you got better or worse
      • i.e. bring client/customer face-to-face with employees, instead of letting the leader do all the talking
    • think about the other 80/20 rule (Jim Quigley)
      • speak only 20% in meeting you are leading – you can’t listen while you are talking
        • gets ideas
        • helps his employees feel valued
      • controversial book “do Nothing” – he does not embrace this style

  • social capital gets created when you embrace this quiet leadership style
    • James Heddebaker (?) (Tx)
      strangers in conversation – extraverts are not always narcissists
      how much did you enjoy the conversation?
      how much do you want to talk to these people again?
      -> the more you talked, the more you liked the group
      -> you actually say you learned more about the other people in the group – the more you talked


  • What do you do if your boss is extremely extraverted?
    • It’s a continuum -> catch him at a time when he is liable to be more introverted
      I.e. not in a big meeting
    • -> one-on-one or a side conversation . more chance of a dialogue
    • -> maybe an email exchange(if he reads carefully) or a phone call
    • Think about medium and setting for the conversation
    • Catch them when they would be most receptive

  • Generational difference?
    • Research is tricky
      • Is it generations or are people who are older wiser?
      • Jean Clingy – SD State
        measures people of same age in different times
      • Does find that millennials
        • Care less about intrinsic rewards of work as opposed to career goals
        • Tend to care more about self-expression and less about social approval
      • Effects are tiny

Generational differences are swamped by age (all people of same age are similar in different times) it’s about youth and inexperience

  • Cross-cultural?
    • Hard to study – different norms in different settings
      • Costa and McCrane – higher introversion scores in East Asian cultures
      • That’s the social norm, not the personality .> still the relatively more extraverted persons who get promoted into leadership roles
      • Complementarity between pro-active employees and introverted leaders, but who do you put above introverted leaders? To make sure there are matches
  •  Optimism-pessimism scale?
    • Extraverts are slightly more likely to be optimists, introverts are slightly more likely to be pessimists
    • Extraversion-introversion has a much higher bio-genetic source
      optimism-pessimism is typically much more learned
    • Better cross is emotional stability
      pessimist is more emotional, optimist is more stable
  • Self-selection
    • Engineering tends to draw introverts
  • Social media?
    • Some evidence that introverts self-disclose more on social media, when they are dealing not face-to-face
      one of the reasons is that eye-contact with other people is one of the most stimulating things that people experience
    • Some evidence that extraverts have broader social networks, just as they do in real life
  • Sometimes leaders need to stand up and speak?
    • Of course, especially in crisis
    • But just not all the time
  • Examples of quiet leader?
    • Jim Collins in “Good to Great” level 5 leaders, quiet humility
    •  Historical examples: Gandhi, Rosa Parks, Lincoln
      current: Doug Conan at Campell’s Soup
%d bloggers like this: