I don’t know if there is less pressure to fake it then there used to be or if it’s just more socially acceptable, but I definitely know more self-professed introverts now that I used to (myself included).
It used to be that introverts were only thought of as either passive or stand-offish – not great qualities for a leader. But now we know so much more about introverts and how they (we) think.
Kimberly Zhang recently published How To Be Successful In Leadership As an Introverted Leader, and here is a summary of what she shared:
Focus on Your Strengths
Introverts are usually good listeners, empathetic, and have critical thinking skills. Use these to your advantage as a leader. Listening should be on anyone’s top tips for being a good leader, but introverted leaders are usually more understanding and therefore able to make adjustments to workflows or cultural issues that others may not be attuned to.
Break Out of Your Comfort Zone
Not all introverts have an abhorrence to public speaking. I don’t mind it at all, but networking for me is a nightmare. As Kimberly says, “Some introverted leaders will have difficult time building relationships with their team members. Others will struggle with discipline and confrontation, while others will have problems making quick decisions without being able to think them through. Whichever of these may be affecting you, look for opportunities to work on them by breaking out of that comfort zone for good.”
Do not try to hide that you are an introvert. For example, most introverts need alone time. This was one that I didn’t learn until much later in life than I should. I am fairly social especially with my close friends and family, but I tend to get cranky if I do not have time to decompress. Let your team in on these aspects of your personality so they can be more understanding. They’ll know you aren’t trying to avoid them. You just need your space.
Build the Optimal Team and Build a Relationship with Them
Hire people that complement your strengths and weaknesses. Kimberly cites a study by the Academy of Management that shows “that extroverted leaders excel when leading a team of passive individuals. On the contrary, proactive teams do not mesh as well with extraverted leaders, but thrive under introverted management.”
Make some concrete goals to bond with your team – ask more personal questions or attend activates outside or work. Having a closer relationship will help you and your team.
Get Advice from Extroverts
I almost didn’t include this one because anytime I ask my extroverted friends how to handle something it is the exact opposite of what I would do.
But, as Kimberly says, “Picking their brain to see how they approach situations differently than you do can be enlightening.”
She uses an example of how an extroverted leader might resolve a conflict between co-workers by inviting them to discuss the matter directly. While you may not like that idea, your listening skills could be extremely helpful in mediating the issue.
Take Advantage of Technology
Technology like project management tools can be a middle ground between your introverted tendencies and being way too far outside of your comfort zone.
Unfortunately, it looks like video conferencing (like Zoom) is going to be around for a while so you need to work on that if it is not your thing.