Why Introverts and Comedians Make Great Leaders

Six overlooked keys to success you may never hear from popular CEOs.

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By Mike Jones

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Talking about success in the business world -- whether it's making it to the corner office or founding a tech startup -- often revolves around a series of well-worn tropes: "Think outside the box," "Grow or die," and maybe the worst, "Failure is not an option." Actually, failure is an option, and so are a number of other overlooked keys to business success.

Failure is one of the best tools for success. Steve Jobs was 30 years old, successful, wealthy and a global celebrity when he was fired from Apple, the billion-dollar empire he had founded.

But as Jobs told a group of Stanford graduates in his 2005 commencement speech, getting fired from Apple was "the best thing that could have happened" to him. Failure, he explained, ultimately freed him from the pressure of having to succeed, allowing a period of creativity that became pivotal for Apple's success.

Jobs isn't alone. The career paths of countless other top business leaders suggest that failure and adversity are instrumental to success. The key? Using failure as a "wake-up call" -- an opportunity to learn how to do something better -- because if you're not making mistakes, the thinking goes, you're probably not trying very hard.

Related: 12 Successful Entrepreneurs Share the Best Advice They Ever Got

A good worker wants to be the smartest person in the room. A good CEO wants to hire the smartest person in the room. Life is not high school -- there is no penalty for copying the smart kid's homework. The trick is to figure out who that kid is and how to hire him or her. Leading startups recognize how important hiring top talent is -- Google, a long-time stock market darling, has implemented a people analytics approach that they run and maintain with relentless fervor.

When British entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson describes the key ingredient in his success, he's unlikely to mention his personal role. More likely, he'll point to the good people who run the individual businesses within his Virgin empire.

Today's top companies have become synonymous with their founders: Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg. Nonetheless, the world's most successful companies have never been built on the achievements of just one person.

You don't have to be the life of the party. The business world has never been altogether friendly to introverts. Yet roughly four in 10 top executives -- including Larry Page, co-founder and now CEO of Google, identify as one. What's more, their success may not come despite their natural introversion, but because of it, an idea backed up by new research suggesting introverts foster a better team environment than their more outgoing peers.

It's worth noting, however, that the most successful introverts have also mastered the ability to act like extroverts, a reminder that learning how to fake it is still an important tool in a leader's arsenal.

Listening can be more impactful than speaking. At times, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's famously-understated leadership style looked like a liability. Naturally shy early in his career, Zuckerberg was called "mildly autistic," a result of his slightly awkward public appearances. But behind the hoodie and poor interviewing skills lay a great listener.

Related: The Motivation Secrets of 8 Successful Business Leaders

Typically, we choose leaders for their skill at conveying messages clearly and powerfully. But it is listening that distinguishes the best leaders from the rest. That's because the better you are at listening, the more likely people will talk to you. Thanks to his listening skills, Zuckerberg assembled a group of loyal, passionate people who shared in his vision for Facebook and no doubt led to greater success.

Don't take yourself too seriously. Before Twitter CEO Dick Costolo became the head of a social media empire, he was a comedian. Turns out, his funny-man chops may have played an important role in his business success.

Why? Just think about the people you're most likely to trust and get along with -- probably not those who take themselves too seriously. Successful CEOs like Costolo have figured out that a leader who encourages laughter tends to be less hierarchical and thus more innovative.

Charisma is overrated. A glance at some of the biggest business collapses over the last decade reveals a startling trend: many were headed by exceptionally charismatic leaders. It wasn't always that way. In the 1960s, '70s and '80s, CEOs were essentially management men -- they started at the bottom and worked their way to the top. But in the '90s, the corporate trajectory changed.

As big-business profits plummeted, investors started looking for CEOs with star-power appeal. "The cult of the CEO" emerged and charismatic appeal became the barometer of successful leadership.

Time and again that equation has proven misguided. Chief among them was former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling, whose charm had such a powerful effect on the board that it overlooked its own ethics code and ultimately led to the firm's implosion.

With Sarah Tory of Hippo Reads

Related: Richard Branson on What Makes a True Entrepreneur

Mike Jones

CEO of Science, Inc.

Mike Jones is CEO of Science, Inc., a Los Angeles-based technology studio that nurtures successful digital businesses by bringing together the best ideas, talent, resources and financing through a centralized platform. Jones, a long-time entrepreneur and former CEO of Myspace, has founded, advised, invested in and sold numerous businesses. He has personally invested in more than 30 startup businesses, including Klout, Betterworks, Formspring, ShoeDazzle and LunchMoney.



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