There’s a misconception that extroverts are born leaders and introverts are good followers. Trust me – as a to-the-bone INFJ, I’ve been on the receiving end of that argument, and it didn’t end well.
It ended, to be quite clear, with me volleying a list of world leaders who are decided introverts but also household names. Emma Watson, Barack Obama, Bill Gates, Marissa Mayer, Warren Buffett. If that isn’t a power-packed example of introvert leadership, I don’t know what is.
The truth is that introverts have natural leadership qualities that tend to get lost in the noise made about extroverts. The language the world uses to describe leaders – ‘outgoing’, ‘charming’ and ‘people person’ – also makes it that much harder for introverts to imagine themselves in leadership positions.
However, in an increasingly attention-deficit world, we need leaders whose calm, thoughtful and focused personalities serve to stabilise a rocking ship no matter the storm. That’s where introvert leadership comes in.
The introvert characteristics that good leaders have in common
If you surveyed a few introvert leaders in their respective field, you’d find that they tend to share characteristics common to all introverts. I’ll give you a minute to absorb the realisation that you, Emma Watson and Warren Buffett share similar personality traits.
Now, let’s jump into those personality traits in detail.
Introverts tend to spend more time alone, thinking and reflecting. Naturally, this allows them to observe a problem from all angles. It also allows them to think up long-term solutions instead of spur-of-the-moment decisions.
Introverts prefer thinking on a topic for a while before offering any concrete action. The one danger with this is that they may seem closed off or unwilling to share. Which has the potential to confuse and alienate the team.
Introverts are more than happy to let others have their say while patiently listening on the sidelines.
The truth is, introverts have a strong receptive capacity that makes them great leaders. They naturally listen, observe, understand and are less likely to throw out half-baked ideas or unsolicited advice.
This, coupled with a tendency to shy away from the spotlight, makes them more likely to listen to inputs before arriving at a decision.
Empathy and awareness
Introverts understand there’s more to everything than meets the eye – after all, they’re examples of that. A leader’s capability to be aware of individual situations and emphasise with them is what makes the team strong.
It might be tempting to take things at face value and hammer home a surface-level solution. But introverts tend to pay more attention to the inner workings of people and situations. In the long run, this makes the introvert’s team happy, collaborative and productive.
Introverts prefer to work in low-key setups with lower levels of stimulation. Naturally, an introvert-led environment tends to be calmer and quieter. This is invaluable when the workplace has to face a situation that may well affect productivity or morale – a calm leader can steer this ship to safety.
Calm and deliberate actions in the face of a crisis is also a boost to employee morale like no other. This is something introverts do best.
Organisation and preparedness
Introverts tend to be prepared for worst-case scenarios at nearly every juncture. ‘Winging it’ isn’t in our dictionary. Instead, we come in having done our homework and are armed with contingency plans for different scenarios.
In a workplace setup, or indeed as a solopreneur, this personality facet is what leads the ship away from rocky shores. It comes of in-depth analysis, reflection and foresight and not of rash decision-making and panic.
How to show leadership when you’re an introvert
The key to succeeding at introvert leadership is taking what you’re naturally good at with a pinch of salt. In this case, confidence – and striking a balance.
Acknowledge your strengths
The first step to mastering introvert leadership is looking at your personality traits as strengths, not a hindrance. You will need to acknowledge your strengths before you can play to them.
An important step in this process is making sure your team knows what your strengths are and doesn’t see your introverted nature as a setback. You will need to explain to them how you work and why you work that way. This is so they know you’re invested in both growth and wellbeing, and not one over the other.
Encourage others to talk
A great way to establish your knack for listening as a mark of your leadership is to exercise it daily.
Do it when you monitor the floor, when you call your team in for weekly meetings and when you carry out one-to-ones. And when you listen, listen attentively and without judgement. Let the speaker know the floor is theirs.
A leader that encourages others to talk freely is one that is expressing trust and faith in both individual and team capabilities.
Tell people what you’re doing
As introverts, our tendency to retire to our cabins to think and ruminate might often be perceived as alienation or being ‘closed off’. And that’s not a good perception to have in any role.
Instead, tell your team you tend to do this when you want to explore all angles of a problem. Show them results that came out of these rumination sessions so they know you’re after results too. Albeit in a different way than they’re used to.
It’s tempting to work as a one-woman army – resist that urge and confide in your team for the benefit of all.
Position your calmness as grounding
Introverts are often misunderstood to be distant when, actually, the opposite is true. Introverts are naturally calm and empathetic. So let your team know that your guarded expressions and tendency to be quiet are methods of reading the room and not being passive.
In time, your calmness will come off as being grounded, especially when paired with the preparation that introverts are known for.
Think, but act
You might be predisposed to think deeply, but certain situations roll along that requires thinking on your feet. In these cases, you’ll have to strike when the iron is hot, and that might mean forgoing your thinking sessions for quick decisions.
You’ll find that, despite the speed, you’ll already have considered all possible angles to find the least abrasive solutions. It’s what introverts do.
Strike a balance
Introverts and extroverts don’t exist in silos in the real world, as comfortable as that would be.
To let your introvert leadership shine, you’ll need to bite the bullet on some characteristics that would generally be classified as extroverted. This means you’ll have to talk to people, share your methods and speak in public far more than you’d want to.
But that’s the nature of the game – to shine, you’ll need to find that fine line where you can be yourself and make yourself heard all at once.
Your introvert leadership potential
Don’t let popular notions dictate who can and can’t be a leader. As an introvert, you’re much more equipped to lead than you think – you listen, you think, you plan and prepare.
So if you’ve set your sights on a higher management role or want to come into your own as a cut-and-dried introvert, take that leap. Use your personality to usher in the calm, grounded and empathetic introvert leadership that the world sorely needs.
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Featured image by Alexandra I.