Why we need introverts

Emma Charles — Valuation Office Agency

I’m Emma, Director of Digital Services at the Valuation Office Agency, mother to two and a proud introvert.

The ‘proud’ bit is fairly new; this post explains why, and tells you how I think introverts help to build high-performing teams.

Although I’m an introvert, I’m not shy; the two things are very different. I tick every box in the introvert characteristics list (as an example, each year on my birthday I spend the day shopping on my own because a break from interacting with other people is a luxury for me). But I have no problem socialising, as some shy people do; I go out of my way to build relationships with people, I enjoy parties and social events, and I actually rank as an extrovert on the Myers Briggs scale. I also don’t lack confidence in my own views.

What being an introvert (but not shy) means to me is that:

  • I live inside my head most of the time, forming highly detailed views and running through many scenarios about any given situation
  • while I love talking to people I can’t do it all the time, and I don’t have the forthright communication style of more extrovert leaders
  • I am at my most relaxed when I can recharge on my own.

Until fairly recently, I thought that these things would hold me back at work. I assumed I would never reach the seniority of the louder, more visible leaders that surrounded me because I couldn’t be like them. But I’ve taken some time recently to understand what I bring to the workplace; I’ve realised that I am equally as effective, if not more so, than those other leaders, and that my introversion is a massive asset.

So what does a person like me bring to a leadership role, and why are we a vital part of a high-functioning civil service? Here are my reasons:

I’m really creative and visionary
This is common in introverts and very strong in me. I imagine the future, walking through every detail in my head, and things occur to me about how it could be different and better. I remember different conversations and ideas and can mash them together to create something new. I can explain the vision that exists in my head in great detail as I think about it all the time (whether I want to or not). This can be really inspiring, and I find it easy to take people along with me, particularly because imagining the future also makes me very good at anticipating and managing others’ views and converting my visions into real projects and things.

I give clear views and different perspectives 
At the start of a meeting I’ve probably thought in great detail beforehand about what I think about the topic and why. This means I can challenge a group to make them really think, and steer discussions along a logical path. On the spot thought is harder and makes me switch into listening mode but I’m great at facilitating discussions where everyone is thinking things through together — I have more time to listen, think and steer if I’m holding the pen!

I have great relationships with people and can inspire them
I’m not always comfortable striking up spontaneous conversation, so my calendar is full of pre-arranged catch up meetings. I’ve found that peers, my team and others like these meetings because I’m reflective in my approach, very good at listening and always curious. Plus I can’t be anything but authentic so people find it easy to trust me, leading to really good working relationships. I often find myself mediating between different areas because I’m good at summarising and synthesising others’ views. The understanding that I build means the things I say are often quite incisive and can make people laugh and cry (appropriately!). I blog weekly for my team and they regularly stop me to talk about tiny details in what I’ve said. People understand where I want us to get to and they are keen to get there too.

So, that’s me. While I don’t represent introverts everywhere, I think that many of us would have the above qualities in common. Contrary to what I might have thought in the past, my introversion is a great thing for everyone. Introverts help to balance teams; if everyone was like me then life would be quiet and boring so hurray for introverts and for extroverts too!


One Team Gov would love to hear about your experiences of introversion in the public sector, what you think the value of a balanced leadership style in a team is, and how we can welcome more introverts in. Tell us here, on twitter One Team Gov or on contact@oneteamgov.uk

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