Why Do Introverts Make Great CPOs?

Recent research suggests we might be selling more introverted professionals short.

By PKpix/ Shutterstock

Unassuming, cautious, reserved – these probably aren’t the first words that come to mind when you think of an effective Chief Procurement Officer. More likely, your ideal CPO exudes confidence and commands attention. They’re a charismatic extrovert who feels most energized and productive when they’re surrounded by others. It’s not surprising that the stereotype of the camera-ready executive has persisted. Throughout our lives, just about all of us are encouraged to speak up, take initiative, and fearlessly make a name for ourselves. Conventional wisdom suggests that anyone who can rise through the ranks and serve as the face of a business unit has done all of that and then some.

In the age of social media oversharing and open office environments, introverts can find it challenging to function in procurement, let alone distinguish themselves. The world has rarely looked more hostile to independent work and quiet reflection. It’s only growing more tempting to assume that all effective leaders are extroverts.

Recent research, however, suggests we might be selling more introverted professionals short. While they’re less likely to seek out leadership opportunities – and less likely to earn high-level appointments – they are no less effective at driving change and empowering their peers. In fact, the CEO Genome Project found that “introverts are slightly more likely to surpass the expectations of their board and investors.” And that’s not just a matter of setting the bar low.

Publishing their findings in the Harvard Business Review, the CEO Genome Project identified four key traits that all effective CEOs share. The most essential was not ambition, charisma, or a collaborative spirit. “Mundane as it may sound,” the report reads, “the ability to reliably produce results was possibly the most powerful of the four essential CEO behaviors.”

Introverts are rarely flashy, but they’re nothing if not reliable. HBR suggests that consistent performance is generally preferable to the sudden spikes in innovation and productivity that might characterize a more extroverted executive’s leadership style.

If your organization is looking to appoint a new Head of Procurement, don’t forget to look past the most vocal and most obvious candidates. It’s possible – even likely – that the best candidate is the one who’s least likely to make an impassioned case for themselves. Here are a few of the reasons an introverted leader could be the right pick to drive Procurement into the future.

1. Introverts are Great Listeners

How many times have you come prepared to a meeting with insights and suggestions only to find yourself talked at? Nobody likes this experience. Leaders who talk more than they listen tend to stifle creativity. At worst, they can instill a sense of fear that will make collaboration all but impossible. Not all extroverted leaders bowl over their teams and toss out constructive suggestions, but few if any introverted leaders do.  Introverted executives come to both meetings and one-on-one conversations looking to absorb wisdom from members of their team. In doing so, they foster an office environment where no one is afraid to speak their mind and mutual respect rules the day.

2. Introverts Build More Genuine Connections

At a glance, it’s easy to tag an introvert as disengaged or disconnected. Dig deeper, however, and you’ll see that the introverted conversationalist is probably doing the same. Rather than speaking just to speak or networking just to network, they’re identifying opportunities to introduce real insight and build a meaningful connection. This makes them especially adept at carrying out interviews. Rather than talking about themselves or professing to know what the candidate wants to hear, they’ll listen intently and identify opportunities to make the candidate feel at home. An extroverted leader might enter the interview process with a list of talking points designed to sell the position. In some cases, they could come off as aggressive and cow a candidate into silence. Someone more introverted, on the other hand, will let a candidate speak for themselves and encourage them to describe the experience they’re looking for. Where it makes sense, they’ll connect their organization to the candidate’s interests and experience. Once they’re on-board, these candidates will feel connected to their new employer and confident in their ability to make a difference.

3. Introverts are Humble

For the introverted leader, good listening and a facility for collaboration stem from a strong sense of humility. While they certainly trust their own judgment, they never forget that they’ve still got a lot to learn. That’s why they’re quick to consult with their teams before kicking off an initiative. It’s also why they tend to avoid the spotlight. Rather than leading to earn personal plaudits, an introverted executive seeks to empower the entire organization. They would rather see a member (or several members) of their team earn recognition than collect an award for themselves. In their work, they will always emphasize the personal growth and development of their team rather than personal gain. This wealth of humility will ultimately build a sense of trust and rapport across the organization. It will quickly become clear that leadership is acting with the greater good in mind.

4. Introverts are Thorough

Introverts don’t rush into things. Quite the opposite. They leverage both collaborative sessions and private periods of introspection to make solid, strategic business decisions. Though they’re not opposed to risk-taking, introverts are far less likely to make hasty suggestions. Their prudence often pays dividends in the form of solutions that are both creative and low-risk. It’s not just about avoiding unnecessary hazards. The tendency to carefully mull things over and consider every option also means that introverted leaders are unlikely to settle. In other words, an introverted CPO won’t rush to implement a strategy that’s ‘good enough’ just because it looks like the best option at a given time. Rather than encouraging over-caution, their attitude will build a culture where mediocrity is never an option. Initiatives might take longer to get going, but they’ll enjoy a greater chance of producing results and elevating the entire organization.

This is not to say that extroverts cannot make effective CPOs. It’s entirely possible that your organization will thrive under the command of a more outspoken leader. The changing nature of Procurement and Supply Management, however, certainly calls for some broader definitions and more open-minded thinking. The same qualities that defined the function for generations are beginning to evolve. So, too, will the qualities that define its leaders. If you’re looking to appoint a new leader, don’t limit yourself to the most obvious options. Take a page out the introvert’s handbook and carefully reflect on every option. That introvert who’s sitting quietly through meetings and working independently might be a world-class CPO in hiding.


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