How to Work Better with Introverts: Part 1

Image by Jeffrey Thompson

Biases against introverts in U.S. workplaces are well known, but still not well understood. Works like Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking shed light on the misunderstandings underlying them, and on the unsung strengths of introverted leaders. We have a ways to go, though.

In this three part series How to Work Better with Introverts, we will take a step towards de-bunking misunderstandings of introverts and replace them with views rooted in human behavior theories and practices, such as analytical psychology. Drawing on my colleagues’ and my experiences teaching and coaching introverted and extroverted managers and executives, psychology and emerging neuroscience, we’ll look at what motivates and stymies people with introverted personalities and how to cultivate leadership qualities in them.

How this series came to be is that as a leadership development professional that partners with People Ops teams in the introvert-rich Bay Area, I see how these misunderstandings permeate all levels of organizations. They have real implications for employee retention and engagement. For example, in the Bay Area, high performing (“Hi-Po”) individual contributors and mid-level managers can earn over $250K a year, receive good health benefits, and dine on gourmet meals at work. Yet, the compensation and perks don’t retain them. When a Hi-Po leaves, an important project comes to a standstill, thousands of dollars in human capital investment is gone, and the team has to recruit someone internally or hire someone from the outside and bring them up to speed.

One reason for Hi-Pos leaving that we at Pathwise Leadership often hear from concerned People Operations managers is that the Hi-Po did not find their introverted manager be “an inspiring leader.” We also hear complaints from executives and senior managers that the introverted managers they manage are “not passionate” about their team’s projects or company’s vision.

What these frustrations reveal is that the team members, People Ops managers, executives, and senior managers hold distinct and unconscious pictures in their minds of how an “inspiring” leader behaves. People compare their mind’s picture to the manager before them and judge the manager based on how they match to the picture. These pictures are especially prescriptive around communication and presentation style. Even where team members themselves have introverted personality styles, they can judge their introverted manager to be lacking in inspiration or passion. In reality though, their introverted managers actually may possess both inspiring and passionate qualities.

To learn more about misunderstandings of introverts and how to motivate them, stay posted for the next week’s piece: Four Common Misunderstandings of Introverts: Part 2. Until then, share your experiences. How do you cultivate inspiring leadership qualities in introverts on your team? You can comment below and on Twitter at @cpculverhouse.