Communication Tips From An Introverted CEO

Those of us who are not natural extroverts have to work that much harder on communication, particularly with the people we're trying to motivate and lead.

My name is Frank Calderoni and I am an introverted CEO. While many people assume that leadership roles require a natural level of extroversion, there are more of us than you might think. One study found that 70 percent of CEOs described themselves as introverts and another found introversion to be a hallmark of high performing chief executives.

Communicating to big crowds or to your employees concerning difficult topics can feel intimidating. However, both are crucial for creating a company culture underpinned by empathy where feedback can be given and received well, where employees feel supported, and where they understand their role to play in your organization’s broader purpose.

According to the 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer, “my employer” was seen as a more trustworthy source of information than businesses, NGOs, government or the media. This means your employees are looking to you to sort out the truth from misinformation. As leaders, we must be able to live up to that call.

I will share the strategies and tools that have helped me most in becoming a more successful communicator.

1. Get over the fear of saying the wrong thing. The only way to overcome that discomfort is to have positive experiences. I started with safe groups or teams of people I knew and trusted. The goal was always to see how I could do better next time. I learned that when you do make a mistake, the best thing to do is own it, correct it and move on. When it comes to communications, it’s not our job to be perfect; it’s our job to make sure our employees know they can trust us.

2. Seek constant feedback. I make a point of going to my trusted sources who will tell me the honest, unvarnished truth. At times, I have received cringe-worthy feedback where I instantly wanted to defend myself. But I paused because those who gave me this feedback cared enough to tell me. I thanked them and I did my best to improve for the next time.

3. Prepare, prepare, prepare. I’ll read through briefings before meetings, I’ll make notes of ideas I want to cover in calls or conferences. Even if it’s just an informal, 20-minute talk, I’ll take time to prepare. A cornerstone of my prep routine is to understand as much as I can about the audience. It’s an empathetic approach that helps me genuinely connect with people whether in person or virtually.

These strategies need to be underpinned by tools—especially in a world where more and more employees are going remote. At Anaplan, we try hard to strike a balance between electronic communication efficiency and authentic interaction.

We have an internal communications platform called The Barn, which is our global intranet for all employees. Our company was started in a barn in the United Kingdom and we have used that origin as a symbol of our history. We also have quarterly company updates, CEO chats, town halls and frequent emails about new people joining, promotions, and recognition. I also have a dedicated slack channel where I recognize teams and individuals, interesting articles and customer wins. I encourage feedback and responses to keep an open line of communication across the company on a daily basis.

Having fun is also integral to our culture. We do annual lip-sync battles, parody sketches and movie tribute videos (in my experience, there’s tremendous humility in donning a superhero costume in front of a crowd or dancing in a music video). We also use Slack for more focused conversations and Lattice for public praise and private feedback.

And that is just our regular cadence. At the beginning of the pandemic, we held weekly company-wide Q&A sessions because we needed to communicate effectively through a period of tremendous uncertainty. According to our internal data and surveys, 90 percent of employees attend all company-wide meetings. This high level of engagement is directly the result of the value our people place on the information we give to them.

While all this communication can feel daunting for an introvert, it has had a major positive impact on our culture. Effective communication strengthens the sense of belonging and trust in leadership and colleagues. It gives employees a better understanding of what is happening across the company and the role they play in its success.