Can an introvert be a good leader?
Tuesday, January 08, 2019
Do you think of leaders as outgoing, sometimes larger-than-life individuals who command attention?
If so, you may have a hard time seeing an introvert as a good leader. And those misconceptions may be stopping you from promoting some of your best and most talented employees.
Myths about introverted leaders
“It is sometimes incorrectly assumed that an introverted leader cannot be an inspiring public speaker, a strong facilitator, or a tough negotiator,” according to Suzanne Vickberg, Ph.D., senior manager of Business Chemistry at The Deloitte Greenhouse Experience, and co-author of “Business Chemistry: Practical Magic for Crafting Powerful Work Relationships.”
Another myth is that introverted leaders don’t really lead, according to speaker and seminar leader Jennifer Kahnweiler, Ph.D., author of “The Introverted Leader.” “People think that they are too reserved and quiet to take charge of a team or an organization,” she says.
As a result, it’s often easy to overlook introverts as leaders, according to Katie Rasoul, Chief Awesome Officer at Team Awesome Coaching, and the author of “Hidden Brilliance: A High-Achieving Introvert's Guide to Self-Discovery, Leadership and Playing Big.” “People believe that they don't have the skills to be a successful leader or they won't succeed in the top roles,” she says.
“This couldn't be further from the truth, and this myth comes from the visibility of skill sets we often associate with extroverted leaders such as being charismatic, talkative, or gregarious,” Rasoul explains.
Advantages of introverted leaders
While some people may view being quiet and reserved as a leadership weaknesses, Vickberg believes that an introvert’s ability to be a thoughtful listener can help them be successful in strategic roles. “Quietly observing others often provides introverts with important insights they would likely not glean if they spent more of their time and energy talking rather than listening,” Vickberg says.
Also, every organization has introverts, and she says that an introverted leader is better able to understand introverted team members — and better facilitate their success. “An introverted leader’s own natural reserve may make them more inclined to ask these members in advance to be prepared to speak on a particular topic at a meeting.”
And the team will reap the benefits of having a leader with a well-thought-out perspective. “The introverted leader may be particularly attuned to a fellow introvert’s preference for a quiet and private work space when they need to focus deeply.” Vickberg believes that an introverted leader can help introverted team members to thrive and deliver their best work.
In addition, having a tendency to listen more than talk can be indicative of other traits. “Introverts do well at reserving quiet reflection time where great planning and strategy can have the space to develop,” according to Rasoul. “And they can form effective one-on-one relationships and communicate well in more connected environments, which can be truly meaningful for the stakeholders around them,” Rasoul says.
The ability to develop meaningful relationships can help them in many ways. “This is an invaluable trait that helps introverted leaders in networking in and out of their workplace, in coaching, and in leading employees,” says Kahnweiler. “They are able to be truly present with people, a key trait for any leader trying to motivate their team.”
Advice for introverted leaders
If you happen to be an introvert, Vickberg warns against pretending to be someone that you’re not — but also believes it may be necessary to flex a little to succeed in a leadership position. “An introverted leader who is very reserved may sometimes need to push herself to speak up, even if it feels uncomfortable,” she says. “A typically deliberate introvert may need to make an effort to pick up the pace when speed is of the essence.”
Rasoul also advises introverted leaders to work with — and not against — their introversion. “For example, once I understood my introversion better, I planned my daily schedule around managing my energy with breaks between meetings to gather my thoughts, rather than going back-to-back with no time for my thoughts to settle,” she explains.
“Once I began to value my listening and strategic skills as superpowers, I could use those to effectively lead my team rather than inauthentically trying to lead in a more extroverted style.”
Vickberg’s research shows that introverts are less likely than extroverts to aspire to lead in the traditional sense (although, to be clear, she says introverts do seek leadership roles), and they’re defining success on their own terms. “There are many ways to contribute to organizations and teams, and some introverts set their sights on being experts, mentors, and team players,” she says.
Advice for companies
Kahnweiler advises companies to look below the surface. “Be careful not to exert unconscious bias towards introverts,” she says. “Does the role you are considering that person for require an ebullient personality, or can the job be done equally well or better by an introvert?”
She recommends collecting data from several sources to understand the competencies and character of the introverted person you may be considering for a leadership position — or the person you may consider overlooking because of their introversion. “Remember that introverts are reluctant to sell themselves,” Kahnweiler says.
As companies help introverts enter leadership positions, they will find that this also helps the organization. “Introverted leaders can be some of the most visionary, thoughtful, and relational leaders in our organizations and we can bring more of them into successful leadership roles when we look for and value their unique talents,” Rasoul says.
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