Can an introvert be a BOLD leader? An Interview with Yvonne Scott

Yvonne Scott is such a natural introvert, her father, upon her college graduation and learning of her interest in applying for an audit position, said to her, “You know, Yvonne, if you’re going to be an auditor, you’re going to have to talk to people!”

Thus began her journey to become, as she describes herself, a tenacious “business extrovert.”  Throughout her career she has purposely put herself in positions where she needed to learn to engage with others at all levels of the organizations, communicate effectively, represent her point of view, and win over skeptics in her quest to move her organizations to new and better places. 

BOLD leaders come in many forms with many styles that fit them and drive their effectiveness. I met Yvonne several years ago when we were working with her company, Crowe, a public accounting, consulting, and technology firm. Yvonne is Crowe’s Chief Information Officer. But I experienced her as much more than that title might suggest. She is a critical influencer in the organization. Others know her abilities as well. Just this year the Chicago CIO Leadership Association awarded Yvonne their ORBIE award in the corporate category. They know a BOLD CIO when they see one, too!

Many times, in the course of my BOLD research, I have been asked the introvert question.  The answer is absolutely YES. Introverts can be BOLD leaders. Some of the best ones are! Yvonne is a great example.

If you ever have a chance to meet her, you will find her quiet but speaking up when important. Always listening and asking questions, even uncomfortable questions because she likes to push the envelope. She enjoys helping people see beyond the obvious to the possible. She is willing to take risks to advance the organization – even if it takes several runs at an idea to move it into a decision and then action. In her word, “tenacious.”

Along the way she’s learned a lot about being an effective, BOLD leader. Here are just a few examples:

“I’m a logical thinker. I used to completely rely on logic to make the case. I learned to speak to the emotional side of the idea. You have to find that hook that says to others, ‘This excites me’ or ‘I’m afraid if we don’t’ – you have to find ways that emotionally resonate and then people will engage.”

“I started asking myself, so why am I only putting together numbers and logic decks? They don’t work when you’re trying to address something that is big and bold. Logic isn’t enough because there is nothing to compare to the new idea.”

She went on to say that logic-only cases provide great opportunities for others to start questioning the data – the whole idea. They stay stuck in what they know, what is comfortable. They don’t think about the possibilities.

Another lesson: Timing is important. This is where “tenacious” plays a big role. She’s learned that big ideas don’t often sell the first or second time. She gave an example of pursuing a big idea with the executive team four times before the timing was right and the case compelling. After her third try, someone said to her, “Why are you pushing this? They said no already?!”

The BOLD leader in Yvonne responded, “Because we need to do this and there will come a point when the time is right.”

And a last example – about trust: Yvonne operates from a perspective that is based on what is in the best interest of the organization. People see this and respond to her because of it. They trust her intentions. Yvonne is very direct and transparent. That includes making sure others get the credit they deserve and never overshadowing her team or others for her own benefit. “I am not a passive aggressive person—one of those that agrees to your face, then tells others the opposite or takes credit for others’ ideas.”

In an interesting twist, Yvonne mentioned that a colleague talked to her recently about working with people you do not trust. BOLD leaders are practical, and Yvonne, more focused on the outcome than the politics, simply replied, “If I work with someone I don’t trust, I work differently. But I can work with them.”

Years after we worked together, I stay in touch with Yvonne. She’s always interesting. She’s always interested in new ideas. And it is fun to hear her talk passionately about her current priorities and interests. She has truly become a BOLD “business extrovert.”

Logic and data are such a big part of the business conversation today, we often forget people are emotional beings. When have you had an important idea fail because of over-reliance on logic and data? If you want to take another run at selling the idea, helping others understand the possible, what is the emotional hook that you can bring into the conversation?

As the first Aveusian to work in the U.S., Asia and Europe, Chris has a unique perspective on how leaders drive material and positive outcomes in today’s global marketplace.