The Introverted CEO’s “Rules of Engagement”

The Introverted CEO’s “Rules of Engagement”
Photo by Frederic Köberl on Unsplash

As both an introvert and a company CEO, I’m forced to walk the tightrope of communicating with my staff but still being true to my personality.  These two aspects of my business life are often at odds.  As a CEO I’m forced to attend a variety of meetings, discussions, and calls.  The introvert in me prefers to limit interactions as they drain my energy over the course of the day.   So over time, I’ve implemented several communication rules to resolve this contradiction.  These practices allow me to communicate while accommodating my needs as an introvert.

It doesn’t matter what your job title may be.  Hell, you don’t even have to be an introvert.  These common-sense rules focus everyone’s communications to the tasks at hand.  Besides being more productive in meetings, they protect the only non-renewal asset we all have: time.  But if you are an introvert like me, these rules safeguard my quiet time at work, giving me the ability to conserve my energy to face the challenges of my position.

Engagement Rule #1:  Morning time is QUIET time.

I used to have a Human Resources manager who would wait for me to walk into the building in the morning, ponce on me in the hallway and follow me into my office. She would badger me about the latest HR “crisis” before I could even sit down at my desk.  It got to the point I had to park behind the building and sneak into my office to get a reprieve.

I understand part of my job is to deal with the crises and issues facing the company.  But as an introvert, I require quiet time to start my workday.  I need to review my schedule and prioritize my tasks for the day.   If my staff interrupts my morning to let me know what problems THEY are facing, I can’t prepare for MY work issues.

Engagement Rule #2: Don’t waltz into my workspace unannounced

I recognize this may be a personal pet peeve, but when someone walks into my office without at least asking, it freaks me out.  Nothing irritates an introvert more unexpected communication.  I hate when someone walks into my office and stands in front of my desk because I am unprepared for the interaction.  Even something as simple as dropping off mail or a document makes me lose my train of thought.   Your space at work is the same as your space at home.  We allow no one to barge into your house without at least knocking.  The same rule applies to work.  Ergo I require people to knock or ask to come into my office.  And I do the same when I visit their workspace.

Engagement Rule #3:  Meeting time blocks at specific times of the day

I don’t allow anyone to schedule time on my calendar in the early morning, lunchtime, or late in the afternoon.  I block off 2 hours both before and after lunch as available times for meetings. The reason behind this is simple. As indicated in Rule #1, I need time to prepare for my day, which means prepping for meetings and discussions.   In the mornings I block 2 hours of time before lunch for meetings.  My staff knows not to schedule lunch meetings if they expect me to attend.  There are a couple of reasons for this.  Everyone works to keep meetings short and productive if there is a defined stop time.   Next, I require a lunch break so I can relax and recharge, both physically (food) and mentally.

I block another 2 hours after lunch where I can meet if needed. But again, I have a stop time at 3:30 pm.  I reserve my late afternoons for completing my action items of the day.   Of course, there are always exceptions to this rule, especially we are dealing with meeting participants in different time zones or availability is limited.  But I strive to keep these exceptions to a minimum.

Engagement Rule #4: Don’t attend back-to-back meetings

One of the drawbacks of limited availability to meet are co-workers will attempt to schedule meetings back-to-back.  Do yourself a favor and decline the meeting request when this happens.  Back-to-back meetings are rarely productive.  Meetings that run long will impact the start of the next meeting.   I can’t count how many times in my career when decisions in an early meeting rendered the next meeting irrelevant.  However, with no time to amend or postpone the second meeting, it turns into a massive waste of time.

 Introverts typically find meetings draining.  If I have two meetings scheduled next to each other, I feel like I’m walking to the gallows to the second one.  That mindset diminishes my ability to provide valuable input.  I require a break between meetings to recharge and refocus.

People may wonder if not allowing back-to-back meetings and a total of 4 hours a day to meet, do staff get the time they need?  The answer is a resounding yes.  By limiting meeting availability, the emphasis is on productivity.  Meetings should be short, organized and to-the-point.  These rules help ensure they are.

Engagement Rule #5:  Meetings should have a topic and agenda

An unproductive meeting is the biggest waste of time for most companies.  I’ve attended poorly run meetings where I mentally calculated the salaries of the staff in the room and the overhead involved.  I’ve never taken the next step and presented a bill to the meeting organizer for wasting the company’s money, but I’ve thought about it.

So when someone asks “for a few minutes of my time” without defining the discussion topic and agenda, my response is always the same:  NO. If I don’t know what the meeting topic, how the hell can I prepare for it?  So that “few minutes” discussion will run longer because too much time is devoted to getting the participants up to speed.  Ad hoc meetings are usually wastes of time.

However, meetings with a topic and agenda mean all participants know the intent of the meeting and items to be discussed and can prepare accordingly.   Prepared participants make for a more productive meeting where decisions are made.  Introverts hate meetings (well, at least I do), so if I have to attend one, I want it to start and end on time, be fruitful, achieve its objectives and reach consensus by the end of it.

Engagement Rule #6:  “Do Not Disturb” means do NOT disturb

There is a reason when I close my office door.  I might be on a call or working on a deliverable. Hell, I might be surfing the internet for cat videos.  No matter the reason, I define shutting my door as a time I need to eliminate outside distractions and focus.  Nothing infuriates me more than a knock on my office door with the question, “Are you busy right now?”  My response is always the same, “Well, I WAS.”

Office doors, noise-canceling headphones, sticky notes on your cube walls are perfectly logical signs you do not want to be disturbed.  Co-workers should respect your needs and your wishes.  How you focus on completing your work obligations is your choice.  But fulfilling those obligations is the reason you work, and the reason your company pays you, so choose wisely.

Engagement Rule #7: Safeguard quiet time during your work day

Ultimately, all the rules above lead to this one.  As an introvert, I REQUIRE daily require time to function at my best. By setting standards and adhering to them (and enforcing others to do the same), I can maximize the productivity of my communication time, reserve quiet time to recharge my energy and focus on the tasks required of me.   Anything less than that leads to a chaotic, unproductive and anxious day.  None of us needs those elements in our work lives.

I know I’m lucky.  I get to set the rules and boundaries on how I interact with others in my company.  Most people are not that fortunate.  But no matter what your position, you DO have some control over how you wish to communicate and perform your work.  You’d be surprised how many people will work within your own set of work interaction “rules.”   It doesn’t matter if you are an introvert or not.  The rules listed above are common sense concepts for a meeting, interacting and working efficiently.  Give them a shot and see if they work for you.

What do you do to maintain your focus and productivity in your position?


Carolina grad, business owner, Master of the Oblivious, "Rural Renaissance Man", dog lover, family man, geek...

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