4 Leadership Exercises For Introverts

Where are you in this scenario? In the front of the room speaking to an audience or in the back of the room, ready to slip out when nobody’s looking?

Personally, I’m the latter. I can speak to an audience if I need to, but only if I prepare weeks in advance. When the time comes, I’m out of commission for the rest of the day because I need to recharge. If you’re like me, you’re an introvert. You’re quiet, reserved, and only allow a select few inside your personal bubble.

But as an introvert, you’re a leader. You’ve got a set of skills that the attention-craving extroverts don’t have. You likely take the time to process and analyze a situation; figuring out all of the possible outcomes. You probably want to make sure the decision you make is the right decision. Perhaps you just want to do your work and do it right.

I worked with a fantastic group of people where all of us were empowered to be our own leader. In order to understand each other personally, we all had a one-line sentence that would sum up who we were. One of my colleague’s (who was arguably the most introvert of everyone there) described herself as “Quiet by not Silent.” When she spoke, everyone would listen.

Her leadership style definitely had a “get shit done” approach, but she didn’t “shoot first, ask questions later” — she was the exact opposite. She would ask every question and raise every concern she had in order for her part of the project to become successful. If there was an issue with your side of the work, she would let you know (very nicely I might add).

As an introvert, she was an inspiration to me. She was able to tap into herself and use her strengths to her advantage. I took a lot longer to get to that point and, I’d admit, I’m still learning about myself today. However, I wanted to share some of what I learned over the past few years.

I’ve outlined a few exercises that you can work through. The idea is to get you thinking about your inner-self. As you read through, you’ll see pull quotes…

…like this. It means you should do whatever it says.

Exercise #1: Eulogy (Your Why)

I hope your eulogy isn’t as depressing as this…

I’m going to become morbid for a minute. Picture the day of your funeral (sorry) and all of your friends, family, and colleagues are there. Everyone is getting up to speak about your accomplishments and the lasting impression they all have of you.

  • What are your friends and family saying about your personal life?
  • What are your colleagues saying about your professional life?
  • What do you want them to say?
Write down your thoughts into a couple paragraphs or into bullet points. Think hard and be honest with yourself.
Homer knows what he wants in life.

What did you learn about yourself?

That exercise is intended to get your mind thinking about “why” you exist. Leadership is about that lasting impression you want to leave and with whom.

When I conducted the exercise, I learned that:

  • I was paying too much attention to my work and not enough to my family and friends.
  • I wanted to become an entrepreneur so I could have the flexibility for my future kids.
  • I wanted strangers who I never met to play a board game I designed.

If you have an idea what you want your loved ones to say about you, then it’s time to think about how people currently perceive you.

Exercise #2: Perception (Your Character)

Take a look at yourself in the mirror. What do you see? Do you look tired? Are you smiling? Are you energetic? Are you happy? Angry? Sad?

Everyone’s perception of Homer Simpson.

Now what do you think your friends, family and colleagues see? Are you arriving to work late twice a week? Do you keep to yourself and eat at your desk? Do you slump on the couch after work?

Why are you feeling these feelings? Is there a specific reason or various reasons? Ask a friend or a loved one about what they see (after all, it’s about perception).

Put your thoughts and research into bullet points. Are there any commonalities or similarities between what you think and someone else’s perception?

I learned that:

  • I was mentally exhausted every day because (as an introvert) I never take time for myself and put my needs first.
  • I avoid difficult conversations because I worry about the outcome every. single. time.
  • I procrastinate at the start of every project because I’m afraid of failing.

There are a number of other issues I was having but those were the big ones. Once you understand the problem(s), you can start making an approach.

Exercise #3: Approach (Your How)

At least he’s trying…

Remember how my colleague’s style was a “get shit done” and “ask lots of questions?” That’s just my perception of her.

Her approach, however, was to “just do it.” If something scared her (let’s say a difficult conversation) she knew that if she didn’t address it right away, the situation was going to get worse.

Think about your day-to-day life; what kind of one percent changes (tweaks) can you make to help improve the perception of you? Your approach, in the end, will help you achieve your life’s goals.

Under each bullet point in the previous exercise, brainstorm ideas (shoot for three each if you can) on how you’ll improve each of those perception problems.
Read the article I posted as well, it provides great context of how small changes add up.

These points do not have to be set in stone and you’re free to change them whenever you like. The idea is that they’re to work toward a greater goal.

Knowing my major points, I’m working on:

  • Say “No” when my heart tells me to.
  • No matter how difficult the conversation, it’s all about the hug you receive afterward.
  • The first step into the water is always freezing, but the swim is always worth it.

The strength behind the approach is that you want to live them out. I suggest working it out in phases:

  1. Look at these points everyday. Read them to yourself until you start to remember at least one approach bullet point per one perception bullet point.
  2. Once you’ve started to remember them, start talking to people about them. The more you talk about something, more it becomes reality.
  3. Repeat steps one and two.
Just pretend Homer is talking about his approach.

Finally, once you start believing in yourself and you’ve told your friends and family about your approach, you can start putting concepts together.

Concepts are used to navigate difficult issues you’re having.

Exercise #4: Concepts (Your What)

He’s smarter than he looks.

So now that you know how you’re going to approach your goals, what do you need to do?

I’m going to start with myself first on this one. One of my perception points was “I procrastinate on every project because I’m afraid of failing” even though I know that’s never the case. This is where a concept comes into play.

I read a series of articles titled Why Procrastinators Procrastinate and How To Beat Procrastination awhile back that really spoke to my procrastination issue (I highly recommend you read it).

Out of the entire series, the concept that I retained (and I use to date) is the “The Happy Playground.”

In short, the happy playground is that sense of accomplishment you feel at at the end of a project. In my case, not only do I love that sense of accomplishment, but I also want to take time for myself (another perception point). So after I finish this article, I’m going to take time for myself and play a couple rounds of Battlefield 4 to recharge.

So how do you build your own concepts? It’s about aligning your problem and your approach. In my example, the problem that I have is that I procrastinate and my approach to fixing it is that I want to “swim in the ocean.” This concept was generated from something I read, but you could easily build them yourself.

Fear increases over time. Just do it.

My colleague created one for herself which was just a simple graph. The idea is that the longer she waited to address a problem, the greater her fear would increase.

By putting this into an easy-to-use concept, she has been able to apply it to her day-to-day life and anyone else can use it if needed.

Think about your problem and approach, how do they align? Are there any concepts that speak to what you’re trying to achieve?

Try and build (or find) a concept that works for you and what you’re trying to achieve. The idea is to keep these in your back pocket so you can pull them out whenever you need them.

As an introvert, the natural reaction we may have is to back down and let the someone else take control. For example, a project manager is responsible for ensuring a team meets a deadline, but they’re not responsible (or even capable) of doing the work. If the deadline is unrealistic, a leader will say so, a follower will “figure it out.” Of course, there’s more to being a leader than just speaking your mind. It’s about knowing who you are and who you want to become.

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