Introvert leaders: Stop trying to be extroverts
Leverage your natural strengths to be a better leader
My favorite time each year is our family vacation to the Outer Banks in North Carolina. Rachel, my beautiful wife, and I spend a week on completely deserted beaches with our dogs. During the days, we sit on the porch just reading and listening to the waves.
We are both leaders at work. She is a Director at a software company and I am President of a software development company. We are both natural introverts.
Spending a week away from nearly everyone recharged us. But, over the past few years, I’ve found myself defending the idea that introverts can be good leaders.
There is a misconception of what makes a good leader. People mistake extroversion for leadership
When people imagine a leader they often think of an outgoing personality, someone who can speak off the cuff well, and can come to life in social settings.
“There is no real magic to being a good leader. But at the end of every week, you have to spend your time around the things that are really important: setting priorities, measuring outcomes, and rewarding them.”
— Jeffrey Immelt
When I was a new leader, I had to figure out what type of leader I wanted to be. I had a new title, but I felt like the same person. Where was I supposed to start?
Who am I as a manager? What do I believe in? How do I want to lead?
I knew I wouldn’t be successful if I tried to lead as an extrovert. That wouldn’t work over time and I would burn out because I wouldn’t be authentic to who I am.
I realized there are several qualities I have thanks to my natural introversion. Embracing these qualities makes me a better leader.
Qualities to embrace
Your ability to listen
Most introverts are excellent listeners. People want their leader to care and have interest in them, both as a person and as an employee.
Your ability to prepare
People tell my wife that she is great at public speaking. They are shocked when she says public speaking doesn’t come naturally to her, so she spends hours preparing. Her ability to prepare and study is a strength common to many introverts.
Your ability to learn
I am not a natural communicator, especially with groups. I’ve learned through years of failures, which become lessons. Communication is a skill I have refined over years and continue to refine. For extroverts, this might be a natural capacity they just have but don’t improve at.
Your ability to reflect
You might not be the quickest on your feet, but you are great are reflection. Didn’t think of the best idea during the meeting? Think about it later and come back with your ideas. Don’t be afraid to revisit topics.
Your inner coach
Maybe you were the trusted friend growing up. You can sit there, listen, and give advice well. Embrace it, act as a coach, and spend a significant amount of time growing your team.
Qualities to avoid
Being shy is not the same thing as being an introvert. You need to be willing to constantly share, communicate, tackle personal issues, and have uncomfortable conversations. Overcoming social shyness gets easier with practice.
Not being authentic
People want a leader who embraces themselves, as well as others. As an introvert, you might be used to hiding who you are as a person. Let your team get to know you, and show them who you are as a person.
Not sharing information
People deeply care about what leaders think as it relates to them. How is the company growing/changing? What is happening over the next few months and years that could impact your people? Are you being open and constantly sharing that information?
Show your team that you are willing to tackle the hard issues. A separator among leaders is how they perform in hard conversations, and how their employees feel while being coached.
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I appreciate you reading mine.
I write about building products, and how to run software companies.
Feel free to reach out to discuss either. I’m happy to trade stories.