Extroverted qualities like charisma, assertiveness, and outspokenness are widely accepted as synonymous with the traits of a great leader. Such being the case, it’s easy for introverts (like me) to feel as though we are swimming against the current in our leadership roles. Introverts may inherently be less visible, but in reality, introverts possess many unique strengths that make them exceptionally effective leaders.
As an introverted manager, I often encounter the unique challenges and opportunities that come with leading in a predominantly extroverted world. I have the privilege of being surrounded by a group of extremely talented and charismatic women, many of whom unapologetically, and without second-guessing themselves, speak their minds and share their truths. Admittedly, the ability to speak without overthinking is a trait I’ve always admired. One of the greatest challenges I’ve faced in my leadership journey is managing my natural inclination to quietly process while others vocalize their opinions, thoughts, and ideas.
Like many of my fellow introverts, I’ve spent much of my career thinking being an introvert was an insurmountable flaw that would prevent me from ever becoming a respected and effective leader. But what I’ve come to learn – and want to shout from the rooftops for other introverts to hear is – we are vital and valuable members of our teams, and we can effectively lead from a place of quiet confidence!
As part of the ConvergenceCoaching® team, I’ve had the opportunity to meet and interact with leaders of every personality type, and one thing I now know for sure is that although extroverted leaders might be more vocal and quicker to speak, introverts bring a myriad of their own unique strengths to the table that are equally important to the ecosystem of our firms.
Recently, I’ve found myself taking a deeper look into my own leadership style and how it has evolved over the last four years, and I’d love to share with you some of the lessons I’ve learned (and am still working to implement) as I embrace my introversion and strive to be a better leader.
Lesson #1 - Embrace Your Authentic Leadership Style
One of the key strengths of successful introverted leaders is their authenticity. For years, I thought I would need to go against the grain of my natural preferences and force myself to become a carbon copy of the extroverted leaders I admire so much. But as I’ve grown, I realized that rather than trying to mimic the extroverted leadership style of others, I needed to embrace my natural tendencies and build my own unique leadership approach around them. Ultimately, authenticity builds trust among team members and encourages a positive, collaborative, innovative, and inclusive working environment where your team feels safe to bring their authentic selves to work, and to share their thoughts, ideas, and concerns, too.
Lesson #2 - Lead by Example and With Thoughtful Communication
As the old saying goes, “Actions speak louder than words,” and introverts can lead by setting a positive example through their dedication to high standards and excellent quality of work, their commitment to supporting their teammates, and their resolve to live up to the organization's values. Show your team that you are fully engaged, and they will be inspired to follow suit.
At ConvergenceCoaching, we often talk about the introvert-extrovert dichotomy. We use the example of extroverts waking up with a bag that contains 10,000 words, and their goal is to use them all before the day ends. Alternatively, introverts wake up with 1,000 words in their bag, and the goal is to conserve as many words as possible in hopes of having a few left at the end of the day. While introverts may not be the dominant voice in the room, being strategic about where our daily budget of words is spent results in communicating thoughtfully and effectively.
Although we need to be cautious not to hoard too many of our words, we should take advantage of our ability to articulate ideas clearly and concisely. Your team will appreciate your thoughtful, economic approach and your ability to communicate with clarity.
Lesson # 3 – Allow Yourself to be Transparent and Vulnerable by Sharing Your Communication Preferences
Introverts tend to excel at active listening, which is a wonderful and useful skill to possess as a leader. We take the time to listen to others, understand their concerns, and ask thoughtful questions. That said, as a leader, you will inevitably find yourself in situations where you will be expected to contribute on the spot, before you’ve had the chance to process and feel “ready.”
In my own experience, I’ve found that I can get caught spinning my wheels, processing, and thinking, and trying to formulate a perfect and meaningful response to the topic at hand. Before I know it, the group has moved on and my opportunity to contribute has passed.
Other times, I have something I’m chomping at the bit to share and find that I can’t get a word in edgewise in a room full of strong, outspoken, and extroverted personalities.
The harsh reality is that quietness can often be mis-interpreted as a lack of confidence, a lack of understanding, or even worse – a lack of care. And on the flip side, those who speak up quickly and loudly are often perceived as more confident, more innovative, and more leader-ly. The solution to this predicament requires vulnerability, transparency, and being 100% responsible for your ability to contribute.
In conversations where you’ve over-processed and missed your opportunity to share your thoughts and ideas in a timely way, don’t shy away from raising your hand and asking to revisit a topic the group has moved on from. Rather than accepting that you’ve missed your chance, and robbing your team of hearing your perspective, be vulnerable and ask the group to pause and go back for a moment. Your contributions are important – no matter what your inner voice might be telling you! Don’t forget - your team values your insights. You wouldn’t have been given a seat at the table if they didn’t, and it’s your job to make sure your voice is heard.
Another concept I’d challenge my fellow introverts to explore, is that your team likely knows you are quiet, but they probably don’t know they could better support you by making a conscious effort to create space for you to contribute.
I innately have an aversion to interrupting people when they are speaking and will most often stop speaking when someone interrupts me. The combination of our extroverted colleagues being conditioned to our quiet nature, along with their natural tendency to speak first and process later, coupled with our hesitation to interrupt, creates the perfect storm to stifle us into silence entirely.
Odds are, your colleagues have no idea when you are excited to share and when you are struggling to elbow your way in. One way to counteract this is to speak openly and vulnerably in one-on-one calls with your teammates. Communicate your desire to contribute and the obstacles you face in group settings to do so. Your teammates will make a mental note, start watching your body language for queues that you are trying to contribute, and before you know it, they’ll adopt a proactive approach to creating space for you to engage and share.
Remember, introversion is not a weakness or a flaw, but a strength that can be harnessed for the benefit of your organization. Embrace the power of leading with quiet confidence by honoring your authentic leadership style, leading thoughtfully and by example, and being vulnerable, transparent, and 100% responsible for helping your team understand your communication preferences.
Let’s shift our mindset from viewing introversion as a roadblock to being a great leader and instead focus on how it can become our most valuable leadership asset!