Introduction

I know it’s a bold statement, but as you read, you will have to agree.

As a leader who is also an introvert, I resonate deeply with Jim Collins’s perspective on introverted leadership in his book *Good To Great*:

“We found that for leaders to make great decisions, they need to listen to the people around them and hear the ideas from every corner. Introverted leaders excel at doing just that.”

Introverts excel at listening to those around them and making thoughtful decisions. These qualities are crucial in leadership.

While many assume that leadership is a trait of extroverts from birth, introverts have proven themselves capable leaders through developed skills.

In the following sections, I will elaborate on why introverts not only can be good leaders but also possess qualities that can make them exceptional leaders.

Understanding Introversion

Before diving into what makes introverted leaders effective, it’s important to grasp the essence of introversion as a personality trait.

Introversion entails a preference for inner thoughts and emotions over external stimulation. Unlike extroverts who thrive in social gatherings and networking, introverts often recharge in solitude or quiet environments, finding large social interactions draining. They prioritize meaningful conversations and may enjoy solitary activities such as reading or contemplative walks in nature.

Misconceptions about introverts perpetuate stereotypes that hinder their leadership potential.

Debunking Myths about Introverts

Myth #1: Introverts Are Shy

Shyness is often mistakenly associated with introversion. Growing up, I was praised for being quiet and content, but it took time to shed the misconception that silence equates to value. Many introverts, like myself, overcome this label and thrive in leadership roles.

Myth #2: Introverts Dislike People

Contrary to popular belief, most introverts enjoy socializing but prefer smaller, intimate gatherings. Given time to acclimate, many introverts display sociability and engage comfortably with others.

Myth #3: Introverts Are Antisocial

Introverts may be selective about social interactions, needing downtime to recharge after engaging. Unlike extroverts, they often seek meaningful connections over constant socializing.

Myth #4: Introverts Are Always Quiet

While introverts may avoid small talk, they can be expressive and articulate about subjects they are passionate about. In group settings, introverts contribute thoughtfully when discussing topics of interest.

Myth #5: Introverts Prefer Solitude Always

While introverts value solitude for reflection, they also appreciate meaningful relationships and connections. Their preference for quiet does not imply a desire to isolate themselves from others.

Myth #6: Introverts Cannot Work Well in Teams

Introverts contribute uniquely to team dynamics, offering thoughtful insights and perspectives. Their ability to listen actively enhances team collaboration and decision-making processes.

Myth #7: Introverts Lack Leadership Skills

On the contrary, introverts excel in leadership roles due to their strengths in thoughtful decision-making and active listening. Their empathetic nature fosters trust and understanding within teams, driving motivation and productivity.

Strengths of Introverted Leaders

Introverted leaders possess distinct characteristics that contribute to their effectiveness:

1. Deep Thinking

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Introverts’ introspective nature allows them to analyze problems comprehensively and consider diverse viewpoints, facilitating informed decision-making and innovative problem-solving.

2. Active Listening

Introverted leaders prioritize listening to their team members, fostering trust and open communication. Actively listening ensures clarity in communication and alignment towards shared goals.

3. Empathy and Understanding

Empathy enables introverted leaders to connect with team members on a deeper level, understanding their perspectives and concerns. This empathy cultivates a supportive work environment and facilitates effective conflict resolution.

4. Focus and Persistence

Introverted leaders maintain focus on long-term goals, navigating challenges with resilience and determination. Their ability to stay composed under pressure enhances organizational stability and achievement.

Examples of Successful Introverted Leaders

Historically, leaders like Abraham Lincoln demonstrated introverted traits such as thoughtful decision-making and effective communication, guiding nations through turbulent times with empathy and resolve.

Similarly, contemporary leaders like Elon Musk exemplify introverted qualities through visionary thinking and resilience in pursuing ambitious goals in technology and innovation.

One of the most important figures in American history and the first Quarter-Trillionaire in modern times share two things in common.

Both are exceptional leaders, and both are introverted.

Challenges Introverted Leaders May Need to Overcome

Due to our introverted nature, there are skills we need to develop to be effective leaders. Here are some areas we can work on, along with tips to help develop these skills.

1. Public Speaking

When it comes to public speaking, I often recall a joke made famous by Jerry Seinfeld: “According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. This means, to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy..

I remember being deathly terrified of public speaking as a teenager in high school. I would nervously read from my prepared notes, and if one of my pages fell on the ground, it was disastrous.

After reading numerous books on public speaking and studying some of the greatest orators, I picked up a few things that helped me become a more confident speaker.

Here are a few tips that can help introverted speakers:

A. Not All Advice You are Given is Good

Some advice about public speaking is simply not helpful. For instance, the suggestion to “imagine your audience in their underwear” is often given but rarely effective. Instead, it can be distracting and awkward, especially in serious settings like a church testimony or a wedding speech.

It’s essential to discern which advice aligns with your speaking style and goals, rather than blindly following common but ineffective tips

B. Prepare Thoroughly 

Introverts often feel more confident when well-prepared. Procrastination can be a stumbling block; effective time management is crucial. Allocate sufficient time to research your topic, organize your thoughts, and rehearse your speech. This preparation will enhance your comfort and competence during delivery.

The more familiar you are with your subject matter, the less time you’ll need for research, allowing more focus on organizing and practicing your presentation.

C, Speak As Often As You Can

Public speaking is a skill that improves with practice. Start with smaller, informal settings like family gatherings or team meetings. Gradually expand to larger audiences or structured environments like Toastmasters. Each speaking opportunity builds confidence and proficiency.

There are countless opportunities available to speak in front of others.

Consider attending open mic events at comedy clubs, where the frequent stage time can sharpen your delivery and comedic timing, enhancing overall speaking skills.

Because of this, some corporate executives use these opportunities to hone their craft,  Depending on where you live, you could find a few open mics you could speak at every single night,

This is not something I would recommend as a starting point, but only once you have some other speaking wins under your belt.  Comedy is a whole other skill in itself, and if you can incorporate it into your skillset, you will build even more confidence as a speaker,

Repetition is the mother of all skill.  The more you speak publicly, the more confidence you will 

D. Focus on Your Strengths

As an introvert, I feel like I can excel in one-on-one conversations and small group settings. If I can envision my talk as a series of individual conversations with different audience members, this helps with my confidence. This perspective makes the experience feel more manageable and less intimidating.

In the spring, friends of my wife & I were organizing a Date Night event at our church.

They wanted to have a fun evening where married couples could come and be entertained, while also helping them with issues that they might have in their marriage.

They planned out games, prizes, and panel discussion.

But something was missing.

My wife & I decided to volunteer to perform a comedy routine for the event.

In reality, it was my wife who actually volunteered, knowing my love for comedy and wanting to encourage me to broaden my horizons.  

So, we went ahead and started plotting out the stories we wanted to share. Each story got dissected in order to figure out where we could add the funny, and we carefully selected the most logical order for our stories.  We rehearsed as we drove around running errands during the weeks leading up to the event.

Some of these stories were ones we had shared countless times during conversations with other people (minus the funny bits we now added).

So, our whole routine flowed like a conversation we would have with someone.

I wouldn’t classify what we did as stand up comedy, since stand up comedians work as solo performers, and there were two of us.

It felt more like a vaudeville act, but much more modern.

Noone but the organizers knew we were speaking, so it came as a shock to many of our friends and family members as we walked up on the stage.

With comedy, you want to get that first laugh from the audience as soon as possible.  Once we got that first one out of the way, our routine ran smoothly.

For weeks, we received so much praise for our contribution to the evening’s events.

So many people were surprised at how funny we actually were.

We weren’t surprised.

We prepared thoroughly, rehearsing in the gaps of time we had.  We made it conversational, and focused on using our strengths.

2. Networking

While I consider myself a social person, networking events can feel draining. For introverted leaders, networking isn’t about mere participation; it’s about active engagement, which can initially be uncomfortable.

Effective networking opens doors to opportunities, resources, and partnerships vital for organizational growth and innovation. It provides insights into industry trends and best practices, facilitating informed decision-making and competitive advantage.

Here are a few strategies for introverted leaders to approach networking:

A. Prepare in Advance

After a job layoff in 2012, I realized the importance of preparation in networking. Research the event and its attendees beforehand. Develop a concise elevator pitch highlighting your idea, product, or service. Knowing who you’ll meet and how to engage them reduces anxiety and enhances confidence.

When I arrived, I shook some hands and introduced myself to a few people. 

Some of the networkers were handing out business cards as if there was a contest to see who could get rid of the most. 

As you might guess, I didn’t have a business card to give them in return.

I was happy to hear others share their stories about how they became entrepreneurs.

When they asked me to share, I stumbled on my words.

I really hadn’t thought about what I was going to say.

I did manage to connect with a couple of people after the event, but nothing really came from it.

The only good thing that came from it was that I learned that I needed to prepare myself before an event.

I needed to have a good elevator pitch – summarizing my idea, product, or service in the time span of an elevator ride.  I had 30 seconds to two minutes to get across what I wanted to say and it needed to sound natural.

I needed to know who was going to be there.

The event’s website listed some of those people who were coming.

Were there people attending the event that would pose as direct competition to what I was going to offer?

How would I address them if we met?

As part of your preparation, you should research the event and the people who will be attending. This can help you identify individuals you’d like to meet and topics to discuss, making you feel more confident and reduce anxiety.

B. Focus on One-on-One Conversations

Trying to approach a group of five networkers as they stand around talking about last night’s baseball game can seem like a comfy spot for an introvert (especially if you like baseball).

But this can also quickly lead to uncomfortable moments.

As you talk about your idea – let’s say an AI startup geared towards musicians.  You start to hear each person chime in.

“Doesn’t Google already have something like that. I think it’s called Chat EMT.”

“No, I think that one is owned by Microsoft.”

“I don’t know if I like the idea of R2D2 making music.”

“GPT.  Not EMT. EMT is what Bill is.”

“I think C3PO would be a better choice.  I know I’d pay to see him in concert.”

“Well that’s not exactly what…”

“Oh, that’s right.  Bill is an EMT. That reminds me, have you seen lately?”

“Well, it’s not quite intended to …”

“Did Carrie Fisher ever record an album? I can almost imagine her singing while she was chained up next to Jabba the Hutt in Return of the Jedi”

“Bill’s son is in the hospital.”

“I know she did perform a musical number while dressed as Princess Leia in that Star Wars Holiday Special.”

“I should give him a call once we leave.  I am sure he’d appreciate the support.”

“I’d love to see that.  Do you know if it’s on YouTube?”

“Well, I better head out.  It was nice to meet you Steve. Good look with that robotic music thing.”

Unless you are already a skilled facilitator, this is not the ideal situation to find yourself in.

Instead, let’s fall back on your strengths.

Introverts often excel in deep, meaningful conversations. Instead of trying to join other group discussions or “working the entire room”, focus on connecting with a few individuals. 

This approach can be less overwhelming and more rewarding, especially if you are prepared and know who the most ideal people for you to speak with are.

I made a couple of connections during my first networking event, even as unprepared as I was.

When I had a chance to speak with them one-on-one, I was much more comfortable.

I even booked a meeting with one after the event.

Introverts excel in deep, meaningful dialogues. Instead of attempting to navigate group discussions, prioritize meaningful connections with individuals. This approach fosters genuine rapport and is less overwhelming, yielding more substantial networking outcomes.

C. Leverage Online Networking

During the COVID-19 pandemic, I discovered the effectiveness of online networking platforms like LinkedIn. 

A friend of mine suggested joining, and after trying to sign up, I realized that I had already created an account 9 years prior.

After resetting my password. I was in.

I learned quickly about LinkedIn etiquette.

Early on, I made the mistake of sending spammy cold DMs to people.

But after receiving a few myself, and finding myself arguing with relentless spam kings, I learned that being spammy gets you blocked.

So, I stop the practice myself and looked to make genuine connections.

I started by commenting on other people’s posts.

Providing genuine and sincere praise and feedback.

I started to post content myself.

People were engaging with my content, and myself with theirs.

I started having engaging conversations with some via direct message, and connected with a few via ZOOM.

I discovered that there were others like me.

I mean real, genuine connections.

Engaging in discussions, sharing insights, and connecting with industry peers can be less intimidating than face-to-face interactions. Online networking allows for gradual relationship-building at your pace.

3. Decision-Making Speed

While introverted leaders often prioritize thoughtful decision-making, good time management in decision-making is crucial during time-sensitive situations. Enhancing decision-making speed enables leaders to respond promptly to opportunities and challenges.

Developing Leadership Skills as an Introvert

A big part of a leader’s development comes from being self-aware.  Having a personal knowledge of one’s own character, feelings, motives, and desires.

Many leaders will recommend personality assessments like Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) or the DISC model to help the individual understand their natural preferences in how they perceive the world.  

I personally prefer the Four Temperaments as outlined in the book “Personality Plus” written by Florence Littauer.

It breaks our temperaments down into four personality types and includes an extensive list of strengths and weaknesses that each personality type exhibits.  There are also actionable items individuals can incorporate in order to get better in areas where they are weak.

Feedback from others can also help you in determining what areas require improvement.

Seek out mentors in areas where you need help.

Growth as a leader is an on-going process.  If you are not part of an existing personal development or leadership development system, you can find some recommended resources listed at the end of this article.

Encouraging Introverts in Leadership Roles

There are several ways that organizations can help support their introverted leaders

1. Provide Quiet Workspaces

A noisy environment can seem chaotic to an introvert. Create environments with quiet workspaces or private offices that can help introverted leaders focus and recharge, leading to increased productivity and well-being.  If possible, allow remote (WFH) or hybrid environments that can provide a safe space for the leader.

2. Offer Flexible Communication Channels

Encourage the use of various communication channels, such as team collaboration tools (Teams, Slack, etc …),emails, written reports, or one-on-one meetings, which may be more comfortable for introverted leaders compared to larger group settings.

3. Encourage Professional Development

Provide opportunities for professional development tailored to introverted leaders, such as courses on public speaking, assertiveness training, and networking skills, to help them build confidence and enhance their leadership capabilities.

4. Promote a Culture of Inclusivity

Foster a culture that values diverse leadership styles, ensuring that introverted leaders feel respected and appreciated for their unique contributions. This can involve recognizing the strengths introverted leaders bring, such as deep thinking, listening skills, and thoughtful decision-making.

5. Facilitate Mentorship Programs

Pair introverted leaders with mentors who can provide guidance, support, and advice on navigating leadership challenges. Mentorship can help introverted leaders gain insights and develop their skills in a supportive environment.

6. Provide Time for Reflection

Allow introverted leaders ample time for reflection and planning. Encouraging regular breaks and downtime can help them process information and develop well-thought-out strategies.

7. Encourage Small Group Interactions

Facilitate small group interactions or team-building activities that are less overwhelming for introverted leaders. This can help them build stronger relationships and contribute more effectively in a comfortable setting.

Conclusion

Introverted leaders bring invaluable strengths like deep thinking, attentive listening, and deliberate decision-making to their teams. These leaders thrive in environments that provide quiet spaces for reflection and opportunities for meaningful one-on-one interactions. Challenges such as public speaking and networking can be overcome through preparation, gradual exposure, and leveraging online platforms like LinkedIn. Organizations can support introverted leaders by fostering inclusive cultures, providing tailored professional development, and promoting diverse leadership styles. By embracing these strategies, introverted leaders can excel, driving innovation and fostering a collaborative and inclusive culture.

If you are an introvert, be encouraged that you have what it takes to become an exemplary leader.

If you are an introverted leader or know an exemplary introverted leader, please leave your thoughts in the comments.  We’d love to hear from you.

Additional Resources

A. Books

  1. Collins, Jim. From Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t. HarperBusiness, 2001.
  2. Litgauer, Florence. Personality Plus: How to Understand Others by Understanding Yourself. Revell, 1992.
  3. Nihill, David. Do You Talk Funny?: 7 Comedy Habits to Become a Better (and Funnier) Public Speaker. BenBella Books, 2015.
  4. Carnegie, Dale. The Art of Public Speaking. 12th ed., McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.

B Online Resources

  1. 16 Personalities (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® Assessment Test)
  2. Daniel Findlay’s LinkedIn Profile (Offers Free Training For Introverts)

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