The Quiet Strength of the Introverted Leader

introverted leader

Introverted Leader

 

One of the biggest misconceptions about leadership remains that you must be or should be an extrovert in order to succeed. Jennifer B. Kahnweiler, PhD, CSP, debunked that myth long ago with her book The Introverted Leader (new edition).

This month, she released an updated version of the book, updated with new research, stories, and experiences.

If you’re an introvert, you don’t have to pretend to be an extrovert to succeed. You don’t need to mimic extroverts either. Learn from Jennifer’s extensive experience and adopt her practiced techniques that can make all the difference. Whether it’s dealing with an interrupting, extroverted boss or learning to lead a project team, you can tap the quiet strength inside.

 

“With the great problems our organizations face today, we are surely losing out by not tapping into more than half of our population and acknowledging the many gifts of introversion.” -Jennifer B. Kahnweiler

 

What are you seeing in the latest research regarding introverted leaders?

I have done my own research through speaking and coaching around the world. It has been enlightening to hear the dialogue about introverts and introverted leadership surface across many industries and organizations where there was bias.

Academic research still appears to be in its infancy, and the studies that I have seen often have very small samples. However, professor and author Adam Grant, Francesca Gino, and David A. Hoffman did research showing that introverted leaders make the best managers for extroverts because they listen. Another study found that introverts’ contributions are more appreciated because they exceed the low expectations of people who believe that introverts are withdrawn or may be too anxious to live up to their potential. I am seeing more studies about the brains of introverts getting published and am very pleased to see all of this activity happening.

 

“Please kindly go away, I’m introverting.” -Beth Buelow

 

Unique Challenges for Introverted Leaders

Would you share just one example of a challenge, or significant barrier, introverted leaders face?

An emphasis on teams is very draining for introverted leaders. When brainstorming happens in meetings and conference calls, the ideas of quieter contributors may never surface. Extroverts, who get their energy from connecting with others, tend to think aloud and thus will often be the first to offer ideas and populate the white board at meetings. It’s not unusual for them to interject themselves into discussions as new thoughts come to mind. Introverts, on the other hand, are more reflective by nature. They may get interrupted or be less likely to contribute thoughts in real time. Instead, they’re apt to come up with ideas on their own after the meeting is over.

 

“Introverts crave meaning so party chitchat feels like sandpaper to our psyche.” –Diane Cameron

 

4 P’s

What is the 4 P’s Process and how did you develop it?

The 4 P’s Process is an easy-to-remember road map that builds on research done with thousands of introverted leaders. The 4 steps are preparation, presence, push and practice,  and they can apply to almost any leadership scenario. Preparation is the first step and plays to the introverted leader’s sweet spot by doing what comes naturally. Presence, the second step, refers to being present in a way that allows you to be with people. You are not thinking of what you could have done differently or worrying about the future outcome. Push, the third step, puts you out of your comfort zone, and Practice, the fourth step, helps you to seize opportunities to practice new behaviors.

 

“You may think I’m small, but I have a universe inside my mind.” -Yoko Ono

 

How Introverts Master Meetings

Let’s talk about meetings because it comes up so often in the book and in conversations about introverted leaders. What tips do you give an introvert who says that she cannot get her thoughts out before the extrovert interrupts?

Keep in mind that extroverts typically don’t mind being interrupted because that is often their speech pattern. Extroverts are also usually unaware that they are dominating the conversation, until they are stopped.

She should try these assertive tools to handle extroverts:

1) Use a physical gesture like raising her palm to grab the interrupter’s attention

2) Say in a firm voice that she would like to finish her thoughts. Note: She might want to practice this aloud before her next meeting to get her game voice on.

3) Avoid smiling and nodding when they are interrupting her. That just encourages the person to keep talking.

3) Grab an ally before the meeting who can step in and tell the group they want to hear from you.

 

How to Manage Up

You have included a unique section in the book on “Managing Up.” Have you noticed this to be a particular need for introverts? What one takeaway would you share from this section?

Yes. Introverted leaders don’t typically initiate conversations with their managers. Because they often fly under the radar and aren’t the “squeaky wheel,” their accomplishments may get overlooked. This is one reason it is important for them to open up the communication channel with their managers. Another is to understand where they fit into their organization’s mission and vision, especially as roles and goals change.

One takeaway? Be willing to ask your boss for what you need including their style preferences in order to succeed. For instance, as an introvert, explain that you need time to prepare and that your boss will get better quality work out of you if you can prepare questions and points ahead of time. The more you share about yourself, the more they will be able to help you.

 

Misconceptions

You wrote the first edition to this book long before introversion was a popular topic. Are there any misconceptions that you find continue year after year?

I smile when I think about the articles I have been interviewed for about how introverts love, date, spend, money, plan weddings, etc. Though there is truth in these pieces, they also tend to make neat generalizations about introverts and extroverts. In actuality, we all have both introvert and extrovert qualities within us. Our behaviors are not as drastically different as these posts tend to position them.

There are still misconceptions about introverts: Introverts: can’t lead, are shy, aren’t good at public speaking and they don’t like people. And we often think introverts are bored or angry when they don’t show much on their faces.

Fortunately, with the “rise of the introverts,” we are seeing these stereotypes erode.

 

Misconceptions about introverts: can’t lead, are shy, aren’t good at public speaking and they don’t like people.

 

For more information, see The Introverted Leader.

 

“I am rarely bored alone; I am often bored in groups and crowds.” -Laurie Helgoe  

 

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Introvert or Extrovert: Who Makes the Better Leader?

Journey to the Middle

If you met me when I was in my 20’s, I have no doubt you would label me an extreme extrovert.  If I spent time with people, my energy level soared.  If I walked into a restaurant, I would meet the people all around me.  Now married to an introvert for over twenty years, I think I am still extroverted, but much less so.  My wife is also less of an introvert than she once was.  We become like the people we are most often around.

I’m often asked about the qualities of a leader and where extroversion and introversion fit in.

 

 

Extroversion and Leadership

The perception is that extroversion is a requirement for the corner office.

A USA Today poll indicated that 65% of executives indicated introversion was a barrier to rising through the corporate ranks.  This is often because introverts are perceived as shy, unable to articulate issues quickly, or unable to make quick decisions.

Are You and Introvert or Extrovert? Take our test below to find out!

Half of the population is introverted. But 60% of top executives are extroverted.

Extroverts are known for their public speaking and networking skills. They are often able to communicate under pressure and are known as natural sales leaders. They are often more forceful with ideas, able to motivate a team to action.

 

“An extrovert looks at a stack of books and sees a stack of papers, while an introvert looks at the same stack and sees a soothing source of escape.” –Eric Samuel Timm

 

The Return of the Introvert

Susan Cain became the introvert’s best friend and champion when she published Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.  Immediately, introverts everywhere had research to indicate that they could also make great leaders.

 

“There’s zero correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas.” –Susan Cain

 

I wasn’t surprised by her research because, as I said, I am married to an introvert.  She is a deep thinker, the world’s best listener, and extraordinarily creative.  Add my introverted daughter into the mix and it doubles down on the argument.  Both of them have the ability to lead regardless of how much they shun a neighborhood party.  The introvert often can take action, even unpopular, because she has less concern for what people think.  That can be a significant advantage and one I learned from my wife, enabling me to make unpopular-but-necessary decisions.

 

Poll: 65 percent of executives say introverts are less likely to advance at work.

 

Unfair Stereotypes

Unless you have taken a vow of solitude and have absolutely no interaction with the outside world, you need to learn to work with both extroverts and introverts. Unfairly ascribing attributes to someone creates an unnecessary gulf.

 

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How Introverts Can Be Great Leaders

Here’s an interesting guest post perspective on the strengths that introverts might not realize they have.  And, yes, I’m sure some of the extroverts in our audience might have some counterarguments to share. This post is written by Jacob Shriar, Growth Manager at Officevibe.

I’ll start by saying that I’m an introvert.

Often, I avoided getting into a sales or manager role simply because I thought there was no way that I could handle it. I was convinced that you needed to have that “used car salesman” attitude to be good, and I definitely didn’t have that.

What I’ve learned recently is that you don’t need to be an extrovert to be good in a leadership role. In fact, there are a lot of qualities about introverts that make them great leaders.

1. Introverts Plan Properly

One of the CEO’s that I respect the most is a close family member. One of the things I’ve always admired about him is that every company-wide speech he gives is always made up on the spot. I never understood how he was able to do that. I require much more planning and preparation.

An introverted leader will be good at documenting and preparing employees for whatever they need help with.

2. Introverts Are Attentive

I’ve noticed this about introverts, and it’s something I really respect. When someone is talking to us introverts, they have our full attention.

That’s really just common courtesy, but I find introverts are much better at this. They also usually pick up on social cues and body language much better. Also, the fact that introverts are naturally quiet makes them great listeners.

3. Introverts Push Themselves Harder

Introverts would make great leaders for this reason. It might be because of our insecurity, but we’re very hard on ourselves, and we’re never satisfied, so we always push ourselves to be better and better.

This striving for excellence is a great quality for any leader to have.

4. Introverts Are Less Risky

Take Our Introvert/Extrovert Quiz, Plus 5 Relationship Tips for Your Opposite

Image courtesy of istockphoto/jhorrocks

When I was much younger, I was what you would call an extreme extrovert.  Myers Briggs showed my “E” was almost as high as you could go.  If I went into a small restaurant, I almost felt uncomfortable unless I introduced myself to everyone else in the room.  I wanted to know everyone.  All of my energy came from other people—listening to their stories, learning what made them who they were.

I married someone who was the complete opposite.  My wife was an introvert.  We would go to a social event, and I would come home exhilarated while she would be exhausted.  It’s not that she didn’t love people.  It was just that she tired out around too many people.  She needed alone time.  She preferred one-on-one versus huge gatherings.

I’ve heard many successful relationships are built on differing qualities.  “Opposites attract” is the old saying.  If that’s true, the couples I’ve studied who have been together for many years generally start to inherit qualities from each other.