There’s a perception that leaders are typically outspoken, out there, with an alpha personality. This image is certainly perpetuated by the media, but ground realities are different. Introverts are equally capable of being great leaders.
As an introvert, I know a thing or two about the unique challenges of being in a leadership role. I am very comfortable being outspoken in a small group. Yet as the group gets larger, I tend to retreat into my head. When I started out, the imposter syndrome hit me hard. I knew I had the skills, and this was reflected to me by my colleagues as well.
Yet I felt deeply challenged. I felt that there were people better suited for the job. It took me time to realise that being able to speak about a topic and actually understanding it are two very different things. As an introvert, I tended to think carefully about a subject before speaking. With time, I grew more confident as a leader, and it became a much easier space to navigate.
Creating an environment where introverts can flourish isn’t difficult. It’s simply a case of structuring a space where everyone is encouraged to share and speak up.
If you’re promoting an introvert to lead, give them opportunities to talk. When you give everyone the chance to share their thoughts, you’re promoting a culture that supports introverts. It shows that the organisation doesn’t assume that people who are loud are better or add more value. When you open up the space for an introvert to speak, you’re making the environment less intimidating for them.
You can also give them a chance to be the last person in the group to share. As an introvert, use this as an opportunity to make everyone in your team feel heard. Let everyone share their points of view, and wrap it up by reiterating their thoughts and adding your analysis as well. This way, everyone feels valued, and you are viewed as a silent leader who doesn’t just impose their own ideas on the rest of the team.
Another way to develop your leadership is to leverage on your strengths. Introverts usually work better in one-on-one settings. So if you’re leading a group of 20, you might find you’re a little out of your depth. Work on building one-to-one connections with each member of your team, and use this as a foundation to manage them. During these one-to-one meetings, focus on building rapport and influencing them, but use bigger meetings for general updates.
Preparation is another tool you can leverage to your advantage. Before your meetings, write down the key points you want to highlight or discuss. This will get your thoughts out of your head and on paper, which will help you phrase it better during the meeting. When you write things down, you’ll find that you’re able to contribute to meetings more effectively.
Sometimes, you might feel as though you don’t need to say anything. If everything is going well, and there’s nothing particularly compelling to add, an introvert will usually prefer to stay silent. Be wary of this habit, as it may sometimes backfire on you as a leader. If you’re consistently silent in meetings, your team may see you as a weak leader. They’ll run loose as a result, and won’t feel like you’re capable of leading them. If you have nothing to say, you could even just summarise the points made during a meeting and list down action items.
Most introverts are great listeners. Often, the most successful salespeople are introverts, because they tend to listen intently to their clients’ challenges instead of just getting their pitches out. As an introvert leader, you should continue to listen to understand, but at the end of the day, know that you’ll have to make decisions. Democracy is important, but make sure you’re asserting yourself when necessary.
Be the last voice in a meeting. People may not remember everything that happens during a meeting, but the last points made often stick. If people are too loud and you’re close to the end of the meeting, a simple tip is to put your hand up as if asking people to calm down (and not as though you’re asking a question). When the voices die down, proceed with your summary and action lists.
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