The Campbell Soup CEO is an Introvert, and Shares His Strategies


Here’s a Harvard Business Review blogpost from Campbell Soup CEO Doug Conant, on being an introverted boss. Conant shares some of his strategies for introverted leadership, including (interestingly) letting people know that he’s shy, not aloof.

There is one strategy he doesn’t share, though, but for which he is well-known: writing handwritten notes of appreciation to his employees. Conant has written THIRTY THOUSAND such notes in the last decade. 30,000! He says he believes that engaging employees, and letting them know they’re valued, is a strategic tool.

Perhaps he doesn’t link this practice to his introversion, but of course it must be. What extrovert would sit in his office for hours at a time writing all those thank you cards?

Conant ends his post by asking this question: If you are an introvert — or work for one — what are the most successful strategies you have discovered for thriving at work?

Here were three of mine, from my corporate lawyer days:

1. When in meetings, it helps to participate early. This not only establishes your presence in the room, but alleviates any anticipatory anxiety you might feel about jumping in. You don’t have to hold forth — asking a simple clarifying question will do.

2.  Choose your employer carefully. When I was selecting among law firms, I only considered those that had private offices for every lawyer. I also chose a firm (Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton) with a quirky, intellectual culture, where I felt right at home.

3. Use your natural strengths. When I first started practicing, I worried a lot that I wasn’t a table-pounder by nature. But I soon found that I could put my conflict-avoidance to work by helping clients to make deals, not war. Another big asset at the negotiation table is to ask a lot of questions — every  how-to-negotiate book will tell you this — and introverts are naturally quick with the question marks.

I would love to hear your strategies. Please do share.

*Also, a big thank you to all those who commented on yesterday’s post (“Should Teachers Base Grades on Class Participation?”) I will plan to synthesize all the comments into one post that you can see at a glance.  In the meantime, keep ‘em coming!

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  1. Luna on 05.04.2011 at 15:59 (Reply)

    When I was a teacher I spent lot of time working one on one with my students.

  2. Common Household Mom on 05.04.2011 at 16:04 (Reply)

    I work alone in my home office, 500 miles from the nearest company office. I set my own hours (part-time). I correspond with my co-workers mostly by e-mail. Occasionally I fly to one of the company offices to confer with others. I wonder if my introversion has anything to do with the fact that I ended up with a job like this?! It’s my dream job.

  3. HSP gal on 05.04.2011 at 17:23 (Reply)

    I just read this after dealing with a meeting at work for 1-1/2 hours. Leader of the meeting is an extrovert with demeaning put downs even though our dept. is doing great! I asked a few questions at first then I just let my mind wander a bit and daydream, then I focus back, ask a question, then daydream again. Not great work behavior, but I am overqualified and need the job. I do tend to have a team approach to work ( I tend to put aside my ego) so I do cheerleading and positive suggestionsm kind of like handwritten memos like Campbells’ chief. I would love to find an intellectual quirky place instead of straight and narrow minded manufacturing dungeons!

  4. Valerie on 05.04.2011 at 21:11 (Reply)

    I love being on the receiving end of kind gestures, whether they are words, a hug, a note or a gift. So, I try to listen to my co-workers and remember what they like. It is fun to surprise them by being the giver of kind gestures. Many times I manage to bless them when they need it the most. It is more uplifting to see their smiles than to be the one receiving.

  5. LaraLibrarian on 07.04.2011 at 04:33 (Reply)

    As a librarian, I’m naturally introverted. I’ve found that treating each of my patrons as an individual and trying to connect with them on that level is the best way to overcome my usual avoidance of talking to strangers.

    1. Mr.T on 27.10.2012 at 21:55 (Reply)

      HI Lara,
      Hope its not to late to reply. Just wondering how you became a librarian.
      I would like to change careers as an introvert but found it difficult to get past the panel interview. Any suggestions would be helpful… Thanks!

  6. Lara on 20.04.2011 at 11:55 (Reply)

    Rally Software’s CEO is one of the introverted leaders The Wall Street Journal interviews in “Introverted Execs Find Ways to Shine.” WSJ Online Career Columnist Joann Lublin discusses how introverted executives are stepping into the limelight – even though many dislike being the center of attention. The article suggests that introverts excel at one-on-one interactions, empathy, deliberate decision making and listening.

    Great video interview of Tim Miller (Rally CEO) about about introspection, the strengths of being an introvert, taking a stand, servant leadership, and being a great leader in this world -

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