From the early career days onwards we have been conditioned to believe that being open, and extroverted are not only desirable, but necessary characteristics if you want to climb the corporate ladder, reach senior positions and ultimately, succeed in the business world. Not only that, on a daily basis we have been bombarded with images of socially savvy and gregarious CEOs, who are not only super successful in running multi-million businesses, but are also charismatic, eloquent, witty and entertaining. So there is no wonder that so many people feel like they don’t measure up and have trouble embracing their shyness and self consciousness. Tons of people struggle with their inadequacies of not being open enough, eloquent enough or at ease at different business formal or informal functions.
Surprisingly, the news doesn’t need to be all that bad for those who feel they don’t fit the image, as the desired personal characteristics for highly ranked business people might be somewhat different from this popular belief.
On one of the introductory MBA lessons, we were filling out a communications style questionnaire, which was designed to determine how we usually act in everyday situations (the Survey taken from the Platinum Rule by Tony Alessandra, Ph.D. and Michael J. O’Connor Ph.D. New York, New York, Warner Brooks 1996). Among other things, the questionnaire included statements like „I’m not usually open to getting to know people personally and establishing relationships with them“, „I’m usually guarded about other people’s use of my time“ or „I usually wait for others to introduce themselves to me at social gatherings“. The results of the questionnaire were categorised into four profiles: Controller/Director, Promoter/Socialiser, Supporter/Relater and Analyser/Thinker. The Controller/Director profile, which is the category closely related to senior executive level is described by this set of characteristics: „commander“, „values getting the job done“, „decisive risk taker“, „good at delegating work to others“, „not shy but private about personal matters, comes on strong in conversation“, „results oriented“, etc. In further analysis of the Controller/Director profile, two characteristics emerged as the dominant ones: „direct“ in approach and „closed“ in demeanour, while, for example, being „open“ and „focused on people“ were characteristics rather attributed to the Promoter/Socialiser profile.
Surprised? For me, it meant bringing down one of the most popular myths in the business world. „CEOs are not really open and sociable?“, I was asking myself. While talking with other colleagues and comparing our thoughts and experiences on the subject, we have all quickly realised that there is much truth in that. When the lights are on and when they need to motivate their employees, reassure their shareholders or influence the media, top executives can easily put on their „open“ persona, but more often than not, these people tend to be somewhat restrained, aloof or even distant. So, remember this next time when you have a job interview, or a professional assessment. To be considered for a senior position, a slight distance in your demeanour and being a little less open might actually work for you, so don’t be so quick to judge those characteristics negatively!