Overlooking the Gold (March 2014)




As I write this there are some welcome patches of blue in the sky and a glimmer of sunlight. I have lost track of how many days of almost continuous rain and grey skies we have had. This last summer the unusual has become almost the usual. I really don’t like it but I tell myself that we need to be adaptable in all aspects of our lives. And I am learning to be more grateful for the warm and sunny weather on the days when we do still get it!

Overlooking the Gold

I received a call from a managing director (call him Jim) who was genuinely concerned that one of his good, bright, middle managers (call him Ted) lacked confidence and was too timid and shy, and as a result would not get promoted higher up the managerial ladder.


Ted was happy to be offered some time to focus on his professional development so we met. I found him intelligent and ambitious, quiet and thoughtful. I probed all the areas where a lack of confidence would be revealed and we discussed how he interacted with others, especially in meetings. He admitted to being quiet much of the time but was adamant that he spoke up and held his ground, when necessary. He expressed bewilderment that a colleague had been promoted over him.


Ted asked if I was going to get input from his colleagues as well. So after discussion with Jim it was agreed that we would do a robust 360 degree online assessment of his capabilities as a manager as well as his company culture fit. (360 degree means input from the client, direct reports, colleagues and management above.)


The results were very interesting. The colleagues (large sample) and all the direct reports had a pretty similar view of Ted to what he had of himself. There were some specific aspects of management that he could improve upon but overall he fitted into the company well, was good at his work and a confident, reliable person who they liked to work for.

The three managers above, including Jim, had a significantly different view. They saw Ted as fitting in with the company and technically good but thought he lacked confidence in himself and needed to be more assertive in every respect. Skills such as ‘encourages team members to voice their opinions’ was seen as strong by colleagues and direct reports, but as weak by senior management.


Most of the colleagues who participated were managers themselves. So here is the crunch. Why did they see Ted as confident and capable but the more senior managers saw him differently?


IntrovertVsExtrovertI have a hypothesis which I’ve suggested to Jim.
‘Within the company there is another sub culture for senior management. And that culture is one of extrovert, assertive managers. Only people whose style is similar, get promoted to this level.’

Jim is thinking about this and I am hoping we’ll get to test the hypothesis. And then if it proves to be true we’ll get to work on changing it.


Why would I want it to change?

  • Having people who are too alike leads to group think which decreases innovation.
  • Assertive extroverts, without the balance of others, tend towards more risky decisions.
  • There are a number of successful styles of leader-management. An effective leader-manager needs to be flexible and adapt to the different needs of their staff.
  • 50% of the potential leader-management talent in the company is being ignored.
  • Those who are ambitious and capable, but are being overlooked, will leave. And that is exactly what has happened. Ted left for a competitor who he presumably thinks appreciates him more.


This week a person in my mastermind group spoke passionately about the book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking”. And it struck me that it is so pertinent to what I suspect is happening at my client’s firm.


In the book Susan Cain suggests our world has moved to one that praises extrovert qualities and views the traits of introverts as inferior. She makes a case for the great value that introverts do in fact bring to the world, and to business. For a taster watch her TED talk or read about her here.


If you yourself are more extroverted are you tending to overlook the gold in the introverts around you, at work or at home? Are you mistaking a different way of doing things, for a lack of ability?
If you are a more introverted person could you gain some courage from Susan’s story and open up a conversation around ‘different’ having value?




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Quote of the Day

“The challenge of leadership is to be strong but not rude; be kind, but not weak; be bold, but not a bully; be humble, but not timid; be proud, but not arrogant; have humour, but without folly.”   ~Jim Rohn

My Little Black Book

A few of my friends in Joburg have had bats take refuge in their homes in the evenings and then not known what to do about them. I have referred them to Erna Balona of the Bat Interest Group.

If you are interested to know more about bats get hold of the group near you. They arrange fascinating bat walks at the botanical gardens.

We went some years ago and had the opportunity to see our various bat species up close and to identify their calls as they hunted for insects in the dark. www.batsgauteng.org.za (links on the site to the KZN and Cape groups as well)

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