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Harry Hertz

Quality Insider

I Admit It; I Am an Introvert

What are the requirements for effective senior leadership?

Published: Friday, October 25, 2013 - 08:05

I am an introvert; INTJ for those who admire Myers-Briggs indicators. I remember being particularly pleased a few years ago when I read a Harvard Business Review article  that extolled the virtues of introverts as effective leaders. The article stated conventional wisdom and a decade of academic research concluded that extroverts make the best leaders. However, the article continued with an experiment with college students folding T-shirts. Groups with proactive followers and an introverted leader folded on average 28-percent more T-shirts. That made me feel good.

Recently, a blog posting in the Business Management Daily talked about Donald Keough, the former president of Coca-Cola. He, like many senior executives, made clear-cut decisions, even if he sometimes was too snappy in his judgments. In 1989, soon after the Berlin Wall came down, he was approached by the head of German operations with a proposal to build a $500 million bottling facility in the former East Germany. Keough decided on the spot that the investment was too high and cut the proposal short. Soon after, Keough was informed that the head of German operations wanted to resign; he felt slighted by Keough because his proposal did not receive a fair evaluation.

Duly chastised, Keough agreed to visit East Germany and reconsider the proposal. Subsequently, he decided to invest $1 billion in East Germany and Eastern Europe facilities. This investment ended up with huge profits for Coca-Cola.

Keough had learned a key component of the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence requirements for effective senior leadership: frank, two-way communication.

Closely related to this communication is participation in the development of future organizational leaders, which requires open communication. The Baldrige Criteria strategic planning category asks about your process for identifying potential blind spots and strategic opportunities. Keough was fortunate that his being chastised led to the implementation of a significant strategic opportunity. But was this the best process for getting there?

To see what else role-model senior leaders should consider, see item 1.1 on senior leadership in the Baldrige Criteria. How do your senior leaders or you as a senior leader measure up?

First published Oct. 24, 2013, on Blogrige.


About The Author

Harry Hertz’s picture

Harry Hertz

Harry Hertz retired in June 2013 from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), where he had served as director of the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program since 1995. For more than 15 years he was the primary architect of the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence, responsible for expansion of the Baldrige Program and Award to healthcare, education, and nonprofits, including government. Hertz serves on the advisory group for VHA’s Center for Applied Healthcare Studies, and on the adjunct faculty of American University. He has a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn, and a Ph.D. from M.I.T.


leadership measuring

This is one of the many bluffs of the present management philosophy, that is meaasurement. As a leader, I don't measure myself: but I have to respond to a key question: am I human?


Introverted Not Anti-Social

Dear Dr. Hertz,

Living in a world ruled by the extrovert ideal can be rough on those that are introverted. Just consider the title of your post: "I admit it...". It's as if being introverted were something shameful. Susan Cain writes in her book "Quet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking" that a whopping one-third of a group may be made up of introverts. So we're surrounded by them.

It's easy to misinterpret or misunderstand the behavior of an introvert from an extrovert's perspective; and it happens to the norm. But, introverts are not anti-social. They socialize differently. So, it's important for managers to identify such workers and play to their strengths instead of trying to turn them into extroverts.

Best regards, Shrikant Kalegaonkar (Twitter: @shrikale, LinkedIn: shrikale)