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contributions are more appreciated because they exceed the low expectations of people who believe that introverts are withdrawn or may be too anxious to live up to their potential.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.
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
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.
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