January 28, 2013
Biz Books

Introverts, Hannibal have lessons for us

"Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking" by Susan Cain (Broadway Paperbacks, $16).

While business seems to place a higher value on the "Extrovert Ideal (the alpha personality — gregarious and highly verbal"), the introverts quietly and persistently create change and progress. In a world without them, we might not have Jobs' Apple, Einstein's Theory of Relativity, Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" and Buffet's Berkshire-Hathaway empire.

Of particular interest is Cain's research on leadership and the introvert-extrovert trade-off. Various studies show that introverted leaders excel when working with initiative-taking employees. Their extroverted counterparts excelled when the employees were passive. Diving deeper, the studies found that introvert-led companies with initiative-takers outperformed the extrovert-led, follow-my-instructions firms.

Why? Introverts practice active listening. They are more open to suggestions and using feedback to feed-forward than extroverts. By not wanting to put their stamp on everything, introverts work from a "we" not "me" perspective. They rely on the skills and talent of their employees to create a "circle of proactivity." Initiative doesn't have to wait for orders from management to act. In a 24/7 business world, seeing and seizing opportunity presents competitive advantage.

The active listening of introverts makes them good salespeople, too. Their natural tendency to ask a lot of questions allows them to find common ground. Cain cites Jon Berghoff. His summer job in high school was selling knives door-to-door. During his first eight weeks, he sold $50,000 worth of knives. When he returned to high school, he was still the socially-awkward kid who spent lunchtime in the library.

Berghoff's sales success continued. In 2002, he founded Global Empowerment Coaching and has conducted seminars and individual coaching for over 30,000 salespeople and their managers. What's his success key? "I learned early on that people don't buy from me because they understand what I'm selling. They buy because they feel understood." To understand prospects, Berghoff asked questions and tuned into their message.

Cain combines research with stories of famous and not-so-famous introverts to make this point: A quiet person can succeed in a loudmouth world.

• • •

"Hannibal and Me: What History's Greatest Military Strategist Can Tech Us About Success and Failure" by Andreas Kluth (Riverhead Books, $16).

Using the historical context of Hannibal's numerous victories over the Romans and his ultimate defeat at Rome's hands, Kluth takes inside the art of winning and dealing with disaster. He keeps the timeline moving as brings us from past to present by showing how history repeats itself.

The Art of Winning — Let your competition defeat themselves. Grab initiative by getting your opponent to focus attention on something you've chosen to highlight. When they're focused on responding to your choice, they stop paying attention to other things. That makes their response predictable and their flanks (i.e. blind spots) exposed to attack.

Use their momentum against them. Do your homework. Study what your competition does; most tend to repeat basic moves and responses. Never block an opponent's charge head on. Much like a judo master, use leverage to counteract and redirect brute force (i.e. get them to spend more time and money.) Adjust your tactics to take advantage of their moves.

When you have small victories, remind yourself that long-term success is not ensured. Hubris leads to disaster.

Dealing with Disaster — There's a knee-jerk reaction to failure. Something must be done. All too often, the response is immediate, and rash. Half-vast plans never yield expected outcomes. Causes and alternatives are not fully explored.

Accept what happened; learn from it. Sometimes doing nothing is prudent. It conserves resources until you can do what needs to be done.

The bottom line: Part of success and failure is adjusting your idea of what they are and how they affect future choices.

Jim Pawlak is a nationally syndicated book reviewer.

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