Rob Stone, National Partner Director for Xero Australia, has a tendency all of us introverts share – spending too much time in our heads, analyzing, overthinking, and worrying. But over the course of almost two decades, Rob has been able to reframe his thinking to see opportunity rather than fear, and to expect success rather than failure. In this episode, he shares his strategies for keeping perspective and moving past uncertainty.
Rob Stone has been working with fast growing businesses since 2003, when he started with E&Y’s entrepreneurial services division. Currently, as National Partner Director for Xero Australia, Rob leads a dedicated team who helps accountants, book keepers, and financial planners become highly efficient, rapid growth businesses.
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Matthew: The Introvert’s Edge Podcast was designed to create a dialogue around introversion, to stimulate a discussion around our disadvantages, how we overcome those disadvantages, and what we consider our introvert’s edge. We’re finally going to confront the stigma around introversion, showing that we’re not second class citizens, we’re just different. And we need to embrace that.
Hello everyone, and welcome back to The Introvert’s Edge. I am so excited to welcome today onto the show, Rob Stone. He’s the national partner director for Xero, who if you haven’t heard of Xero, it’s one of the major cloud-based accounting softwares that really is taking the world by storm. And Rob’s got a really interesting story. I mean, he works with people all day long and helps people all day long, but he’s also an introvert. I’ll let him explain his story. So Rob, great to have you on the show, mate.
Rob: Great to be here. Thanks Matt.
Matthew: So look, I’d love for you to just share a little bit about, because your story is really interesting, about how you ended up working at Xero and the path that you’ve found yourself in to get there. I’d love for you to just to share a little bit about that, if you don’t mind.
Rob: I spent a long time at university, about five years doing a couple of degrees. I left, I started out as a graduate in Ernst & Young, one of the top four accounting firms where I was put into audit. And fair to say, I wasn’t particularly an outstanding employee. And as a result I was put on a lot of stock takes and a lot of the menial work. And then afterwards I thought, this is not for me. But I was surrounded by a lot of people who you could definitely describe as being introverts, and in some ways that was a bit of a comfort zone. But then also realized that wasn’t necessarily what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. And I think that’s a really big realization for people when they first get out of university when they hit that point in their first job and they go, this isn’t actually what I want to do.
So I re-skilled, went into the Masters and then moved into corporate finance for six years. I was there doing a lot of IPO’s across the big boom times in the early 2000’s, as well as the global financial crisis. And then I took some time off because I realized you can plan as much as you want for the next step, but until you’re actually in there doing it, you don’t really understand whether you’re going to enjoy it or not enjoy it.
So I took a year out and I was like, well, I’m going to do all the things that I wanted to do that I haven’t actually tried for during the previous 20 years. And that took me over to a cooking school in France. It took me over to London for the Olympics working in a restaurant trying my head at a few things.
And then I stumbled across Xero funnily enough, when I was doing a stock-take at the restaurant. And I thought, this is just crazy having to do a stock take every night pen and pencil, and then giving it to the head chef who would then punch it into an Excel spreadsheet, come back and complain that I calculated the incorrect number of lettuces and whatnot. It was like, there’s got to be an application online just to make this so simple. And then I stumbled across Xero. I felt, wow, this is a great, amazing software. And then my second thought was, I hope it’s not listed because I could join a company and then move with it through an IPO and then onto the boss. I found out that it actually had been listed on both the Australian stock exchange and the New Zealand stock exchange. So I slightly missed that ship.
And then I joined Xero. And the reason why I joined Xero was because I’ve always leaned into the things that scare me the most. I’m a big believer that people can change if they want to. And one of the weaknesses that I have had, and I still have today, is presenting in front of people. And the role at Xero was to do sales. And that was probably one of the things that held me back in corporate finance was I was not a particularly good salesperson. Very good executing an IPO or replacement, but not out there generating the business. I thought what a great opportunity I get to go and work inside a company versus me analyzing a company, which I’ve been doing for a long time. And it was fascinating being inside a hyper-growth company, it felt like I was in a Harvard Business Review from day one. And I was up talking to people day in, day out. I had to learn this thing called territory planning as well and it terrified me every day. But at the same time I found it invigorating every time I got off a stage or every time that I got off a meeting. And the big thing that I learned from that was you need to have a process. It’s all about repetition.
And then I’ve been working inside Xero for a bit over four years now, and my role is continually evolved. And now I’m supporting all the other team members who are out there helping accountants and bookkeepers, who we call our partners on a daily basis.
Matthew: I really want to focus in on going back to the mindset of, I saw it as a challenge and a great opportunity. Because as an introvert, most introverts don’t see that ability to sell as an opportunity, they see it as torture. So I would love for you to share how you framed that in your mindset to be okay with it, and what difference that made to the day-to-day activity.
Rob: Well, first off, it wasn’t something that happened overnight. It took a long time to build up to saying I am willing to be vulnerable and put myself out there in a sales role. I’m willing to put my head above the parapet and suffer rejection, suffer criticism. Not everyone is going to be happy with the way that you interact with them. So that changing of my own mindset probably started from when I was in first year university, and took maybe 15 – 17 years to actually change that mindset. So it was a very long journey. I don’t think you ever really finish it as an introvert. The way that I’ve changed my mindset during that 15 to 17 years, a couple of things. One, repetition. The multiple times that I’ve been outside the comfort zone has shown that the worst did happen a few times and you feel like crawling underneath the stone and having a big slope. But in the end, it’s actually not that bad.
And I think that the second thing, by the time I reached that stage I had a sense, a level of perspective. Whereas, okay, this isn’t going to be life or death. It did feel like it in the past, but I’ve done it enough times now that when I actually get up there, it’s okay, it’s great. We can get on and we can do it, and we move through. And I think the specter of also saying life is really, really short. So we’re in one part of a continuum stretching all the way back, thousands of years, it’s going to be lots of thousands of years after us as well. The impact that we have is relatively finite, so don’t over-inflate our own importance of each interaction that we have.
And then lastly what I’d say is having a sense of purpose that you can buy into. In this case, we had a really strong purpose led company inside Xero. It took a lot of pressure off myself. It’s saying, well, we’re doing this for a higher purpose, this is what we’re going for, it’s okay to fail, to actually get that higher goal as well. So probably those three things.
Matthew: I think that’s really valuable because people constantly worry about each single encounter. And you know, my book, The Introvert’s Edge is all about looking at the system not the sales, so that you don’t have to worry about micro analyzing each sales opportunity. It’s how you go over a series of sales. I mean, not everybody can make a sale in every single activity. If you did, you’d be better than every other sales person on the planet because everybody gets a client that says, “no”.
Rob: That’s so true. And that’s probably one of the big weaknesses of being an introvert is over analyzing. I suffer from it every day, and you’ve got to try and start finding that right balance. And I’d say where I am now, for me, introvert/extrovert, it’s a spectrum. You’re not just one or the other. I would say I’m probably in the middle at the moment. And you know, maybe ambivert is a good turn of phrase to actually describe that. I probably enjoy both now, but my natural inclination is still wading back to be an introvert. That’s my core comfort zone. And yes, over analyzing, I think the other weakness that we do have is sometimes inaction. And that’s where that process comes in. Because when you have a process that is repeatable, you just get on with it, doing. Not thinking about the doing.
Matthew: For me, I do get anxious about going networking, constantly. Whenever I go networking, I always feel like I do it all the time. I teach people how to do it, yet when I go, I always feel like no one’s going to like me. I always feel like I’m the odd one out and everybody else is cool and I’m not going to be. And then I go and I force myself to have one conversation. And if that conversation doesn’t go well, I’ll have one more. And it’s generally those two conversations, in one of them I’ll have that conversation in a way where I give them value. And I find other people then come to me, as opposed to me having to constantly go to new and new people. The trick is not to be selling, that’s not what networking is for. But it’s amazing the amount. I mean, I teach people this stuff and I teach people not to be overwhelmed by that anxiety, but I still have it every time I go. And if I go networking 10 times in a week, I become slightly desensitized, I don’t do it for a month. The next time I’m terrified again. And I’ve got to get back over that hump. Do you find that as you sell more and more, you become desensitized to the problem, it’s almost less scary?
Rob: I think about it as being in the flow. So when you’re in the action of doing something, you are in the flow. And all of a sudden, you’re not thinking about yourself or the consequences of your own actions, you’re just getting on doing things. And I think that’s the really powerful balancing part of being an introvert is, don’t think about the consequences of jumping off the cliff, just run and jump. The consequences will lie where they are. And that’s really powerful when you start breaking apart of saying what I can control is how I behave. I can’t control the other person about how they’re going to react to my behaviors. So like you, it never does go away, it’s still always present. And in many ways that is our strength. You know, I love the fact that I come back and I still feel vulnerable every single time I’m out there interacting. I really think that’s one of our core strengths
Matthew: When I speak on stage or I go to a sales event, a lot of times people will say to me, “Matt, the reason why I identified with you and not all the other people on the stage is I felt you were vulnerable on the stage. You shared real stories.” We talked about this, I show a photo of me with really bad acne at my sister’s wedding and talk about how horrific that was to know that that photo would be on her mantle for the rest of her life. And I flick it on and then I laugh about the fact that while I continue talking about this, I’m going to flick it off because I don’t want it up on there. And then people can see that I’m uncomfortable with the photo, but I’m doing it to share. And how much of an impact that makes, I don’t think extroverts can have that impact.
Rob: You’re right. And I mean, the context of this talking with each other right now. This morning I woke up and it’s like, oh wow, it’s going to be a live conversation from Sydney to Austin, we’re recording it. And it’s going to be out there in the public domain. That’s really scary. But then at the same time, we’ve had a lot of conversations, I’ve done a few podcasts myself. And you know, the more times you do something, it does take the sting out of it. And I think sometimes just don’t overthink it. Just have the conversation and see where things fall at the end of the day.
Matthew: You know, it doesn’t matter what country you’re in. I mean, two Aussies having a chat about how to be successful as an introvert, it doesn’t make any difference where you are. I’m in the States, everyone’s having the same problems. I’ve been to Europe. I’ve traveled the world, you’ve traveled the world. It doesn’t matter. Everyone has introversion and it’s not a disadvantage, but you do get in your head a lot and you need to learn how to cope with that. Just like if you’re an extrovert, you’ve got a lot of things you’ve got to cope with, too. And I think that we constantly fixate on our disadvantages and don’t focus on our strengths where the extroverts, a lot of times, just focus on their strengths and they’re super excited about their strengths and they may need to work on their weaknesses. But they don’t really worry too much about it. And I think that’s a big difference.
Rob: Yeah, yeah. 110%. It’s interesting. You talk about that contrast between an extrovert and introvert, particularly when it comes to those internal monologues. And I think one of the big things for introverts is, when you are at the very extreme end of being an introvert, pay special attention to your internal monologue. Are you being positive about yourself? Are you being negative about yourself? Because you need to flip that on its head and be really focused on the positive aspects.
Matthew: I studied neuro-linguistic programming for a long time. And they talk about positive affirmations and I always kind of thought it was a bit of hocus pocus, it didn’t work. And then I’ve got a great friend, Gerhard, who’s the founder of Selling Power Magazine. And he started to move into mindset science, and he started talking about positive affirmations and how much of a difference. And he talked about this app called ThinkUp and how you can read affirmations and then listen to them. And the science is there. The bottom line is that, especially as introverts, anytime we hear something negative, we feel it. And we have to overcompensate by thinking about positive things. And I’ve had clients that constantly have these stories that they tell themselves for why they can’t be successful. And somebody will give them a great piece of advice and they’ll then play story three about the reason why it won’t work for them. Or play story seven because they’ve told them so long. And if they’re telling me that story, they’ve told themselves that 20 times that day. How do you cope with the mindset battles that all introverts have to have?
Rob: Probably first off, not particularly well. I do a few things. I try and be aware when I am being negative around the type of monologues I’m having about myself. It’s very important that when people are talking to us as introverts, the way that we interpret it, there is always ambiguity in language. And we need to focus on if there is ambiguity to weigh it towards the positive side. Because if you do have a tendency to be hypercritical on yourself, you just have to be aware of that and really focus on it each time.
Matthew: I think awareness and being super conscious about those thought processes, as you said, is one of the most important things. Because a lot of times we aren’t consciously aware of what we’re thinking until we make it the center point of our concentration. What am I actually thinking? When did I decide that? Why am I thinking that? And becoming aware of that dialogue.
I think one of the biggest turning points for me is when I started to become consciously aware of the dialogue that was going on inside my head and agreed to change it. I have a statement where I say everything always works out. And that process where I have people say to me, “You can’t think that. There’s no way you could agree that everything always works out.” I say, no, but I understand things are going to go wrong but I would prefer to have a focus that things are always going to go right. And occasionally when they go wrong, be disappointed, then manage my expectations on the fact that it’s probably going to go wrong. I mean, let’s think about the amount of energy I’m willing to put in if I think it’s going to go wrong. It just turns the tables on motivation, on passion, on everything. So it’s important to have that positive framework.
Rob: 110%. We have to overcompensate as introverts. We have to be aware of it. I know in my own life, I think I’ve made a very conscious decision to not be fearful. And that fear often leads to inaction and it’s like, just get on with it. And if it doesn’t work out, that’s fine. Brush yourself off, get up again and give it another shot.
One thing I have started doing recently is a little bit more mindfulness. And it’s quite interesting because I think as introverts, we often like to get ourselves lost in storytelling because we naturally gravitate towards that. But the mindfulness where you, you know, maybe 15, half an hour, once or twice a week. I’d love to do more where you actually sit down and type of meditation or anything like that to actually give yourself space to see what bubbles up. That’s been really useful in analyzing what I’ve been having an internal monologue and actually digesting and tearing it apart.
Matthew: I’d love to talk to you about your process of how you do that, how you structure setting the time aside, and how you take yourself through the first steps. What we might do is, this is the end of the time we’ve got for session one. So let’s pick that up in the second session. But thank you so much for the value you’ve provided so far.
Rob: Thank you, Matt. It’s been great talking.
Matthew: Yeah, it has been great to have a fellow Aussie on the show. So I really appreciate you tuning in. But for everyone that’s watching at home, I hope you’ve enjoyed this content. The goal of this is really to provide you value and also something that’s very different to the other types of podcasts that you’ve listened to. So if you’re enjoying this content, please subscribe, please post a review on iTunes so that it pushes up the iTunes charts to allow more and more introverts to see this content and get the value that I hope you’ve had out of this. I know I’ve certainly got a lot out of the interview with Rob, and if you’re enjoying it and want to see episode two, make sure you go to theintrovertsedge.com/rob. And I look forward to seeing you there. Cheers.