Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Extro-intro-ambi, or the truth about 'verts

The talented and self-effacing Ang Lee
Most of the really good actors I know do not have large egos, nor are they super-outgoing or showy. In other words, they are not full-blown extroverts. They are more likely to be introverts, or "situational" extroverts. But they are not motivated by shyness or fear; they do not dedicate themselves to acting so they can "lose themselves" or "hide" behind their roles. Rather, they are gifted people whom life has taught to be good listeners, as well as close observers who can follow others' social cues. These actors combine heightened awareness of the world around them with courage, fearlessness, and a rejection of "playing it safe." So they probably fall somewhere in between extroversion and introversion. They are ambiverts.

Great directors are this way, too. I was in grad school with Ang Lee, who is famous for making tremendously ambitious films (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Brokeback Mountain; Life of Pi, to name a few). He is also known for relying upon a strong work ethic to execute his keen artistic vision, all while being quietly, yet unfailingly, generous to his cast and crew. He remains, as he was at the University of Illinois, the guiding light who is willing to let others star in his show.

Writer and thought-leader Daniel Pink wrote a column for the Washington Post in late January about these best-of-both world people, these ambiverts. He wasn't talking about actors, or directors, but leaders. I found his logic for upending the conventional wisdom (the best leader is a people-person, is larger-than-life, etc.) compelling, so I thought I would share it with you:

"When we choose leaders. . . we're understandably drawn to the gregarious, friendly types with their comfortable patter and ready smiles. But are they really the best? We'd be far better off with those who take a more calibrated approach - who can talk smoothly but also listen keenly, who know when to turn on the charm but also when to turn it off, who combine the extrovert's assertiveness with the introvert's quiet confidence."

Something to think about next time we select new leaders, or set our  sights on new leadership positions for ourselves!

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