An introvert’s guide to leadership
One of my clients (I’ll call him Kieran) is an introvert. But a lot of his clients mistake him for an extravert. He doesn’t seem at all shy – he is chatty and sociable, makes strong eye contact and has a lot to say about both work and life.
Many of his colleagues also think of him as quite extraverted. It’s only a minority of people who know him quite well who realise that he’s actually quite an introverted individual who behaves in a socially outgoing manner.
Based on research as well as my observations of what seems to work for high achieving leaders, here are 7 tips if you’re a more introverted individual who aspires to be a strong leader:
- Understand that your personality does not have to constrain your behaviour. Just because you may naturally be more introverted in terms of your personality does not mean that you cannot display behaviour that makes you an effective leader. Many leaders who describe themselves as introverts have learnt to behave in ways that help them to lead very successfully.
- Understand that your team need more of your physical presence and social interest than you may want to give. Many more introverted individuals enjoy focusing on the tasks and projects that they have to do. But as a leader, you may need to make a conscious effort to spend more time simply socialising, chatting and hanging out with your people.
- Plan times to be sociable. Extraverted people enjoy chatting at just about any time. As a more introverted person, you may want to schedule times when you rove around the workplace talking to people. For example, one leader I coach aims to spend the first 30 minutes of each day roving around the office chatting about her team’s lives as well as their work. She then aims to spend another 30 minutes doing the same at around lunchtime and then a further 15 minutes at the end of each day.
- Communicate not only what you want people to do but also why. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that other people may not know your intentions. So take that extra little bit of time to explain the reasoning behind your thinking. Be sure that you use the word “because” when you’re telling people what they need to do.
- Make an effort to talk about yourself. Extraverted people love talking about their lives (and sometimes end up oversharing). If you are at the more introverted end of the spectrum, realise that other people probably want to know a bit more about your life, your beliefs and values and motivations, than you may initially be willing to share. For example, another of my clients spends a few minutes every Sunday evening loosely preparing relevant anecdotes from her weekend that she is willing to share when she is back at work on Monday morning.
- Schedule in time to work without interruptions. More introverted folks generally don’t thrive when they are interrupted a lot. So set aside time each day when you can think and work alone. But here’s the key: communicate when you want to be left alone. Clearly, if there are truly important issues that arise, you want to be notified so you can help. But generally speaking, during these quiet times, gently remind your team that you are working on something for the next hour or couple of hours.
- Structure your home life to fulfil your personal needs. If you feel frazzled by all of the interpersonal demands you face at work, the last thing you need is to feel even more drained by friends or family after work. So make sure you put time in your schedule for activities that you find personally renewing. Otherwise you’ll only run yourself down and end up being both a poor leader and a bad friend/family member.
Please do share this piece if you found it useful. And you may also be interested in another piece that I’ve written on networking tips for introverts.