The Employers' Association

The Employers’ Association (TEA) is a not-for-profit employers’ association, formed in 1939, with offices in Grand Rapids serving the West Michigan employer community. We help more than 600 member companies maximize employee productivity and minimize employer liability through human resources and management advice, training, survey data, and consulting services.

TEA is in the business of helping people. This blog is intended to address human issues, concerns and the things that impact people - be they self-perpetuated or externally imposed. Feel free to respond to the thoughts presented here, for without each other, we are nothing!

Friday, April 11, 2014


Some would suggest that one must be an extrovert to be a good manager – that one must be heard (clearly and frequently) to be followed.  We often think that highly effective managers must be able to speak flawlessly (and persuasively) to crowds or mingle effortlessly at events with public officials and other executives.  Extroverts having KNOWLEDGE, EXPERIENCE AND ABILITY are able to mobilize individuals to follow them when they step into the spotlight but introverts often become excellent (and highly respected) leaders if they can overcome the tendency to hide (or downplay) their strengths.

During my 25 years of promoting operational excellence and business sustainability through the efforts of The Employers’ Association, I have met a number of successful leaders who are successful, universally admired and respected.  Many of the better leaders have been more “introverted” than “extroverted” in their actions, communications and ways they influence those around them.  Though extroverts can often motivate individuals with ease and inspire them to do things they might not have otherwise considered, some extremely introverted individuals have become excellent leaders when they exhibit basic characteristics not typically associated with extroverts.  These tendencies would include:

  • Introverts are often deliberate and measured in their responses to situations.  This does not mean they are slow (many process things quickly) but rather that they have considered the “pros and cons” of most decisions and formulated several alternative courses of action should their initial direction prove untenable.  They are not prone to bursts of temper or extreme reactions as they are more thoughtful in how they sift through and process information – rarely acting until they know (or have considered) what might happen should they act.  Introverts respond strategically to most situations rather than emotionally – establishing trust and confidence in those that choose to follow their lead.
  • Introverts are analytical in their thought processes – experts at finding their way through reams of data quickly and reaching the core of the matter.   Subdued in words and actions (allowing more time to be spent “thinking” than “acting”), introverts are surprisingly decisive – any perceived delays in action being caused by an introvert’s need to view issues from all sides rather than their fear of acting to resolve issues.
  • Introverted leaders are good listeners.  Being naturally quiet, they let others do most of the talking BUT listen closely to everything said around them.  Being deliberate and intentional in their actions, introverts act on what they hear after filtering “what will work” from “what will not” so their decisions are likely to be accepted by “the team” rather than rejected as being a “top-down” proclamation.  
  • Introverts are naturally risk averse – a critical management function in avoiding potentially disastrous risk.   While new ideas, products or services must be considered when charting an organization’s future, the ramifications of intentionally changing a product, process or service must be anticipated
    (and alternative directions be developed) should “our worst nightmare” come true.  Being “risk averse” helps to minimize nightmares but to remain “as we are” insures nothing but certain death. While we must change to grow, we must take risk wisely when others depend on the decisions we make (or choose not to make).
  • Introverted leaders often become the voice of reason within any situation or environment.  While an introvert’s voice is not typically loudest, it often becomes the one to which most listen.  Influenced more by rationality than charisma, an introverted leader is “heard” because people know something reasonable is being said in a rational and thoughtful way.

To be successful as an introvert in management, you have to be willing to force yourself out of your comfort zone. (I can speak from experience on this factor.  A Board member once told me I would have to become more involved in the community if I were to lead this organization.  Having served on more than twenty Boards and/or committees – typically 12 to 15 at any given time – I thank (or blame) this Director for his wisdom!)  An introverted leader must be willing to make him- or herself get up and speak in front of people, run large and contentious meetings, and wade into interpersonal conflict when their natural inclination might be to go home and read a good book or be “an island” rather than a part of a larger society.

While extroverted individuals are often thought to be the best leaders (perhaps because they proclaim themselves as such), many qualities that make people more “introverted” are exhibited by great leaders. Listening before acting, analyzing before deciding and determining direction on the magnitude of risk (rather than the aversion of it) are characteristics of an introvert – AND of a great leader.  Perhaps at no time in history has it been truer than today that we can become anything that we would like – regardless of our natural tendencies or reactions to things – as long as we take intentional action and “own” our failures (as well as our successes) while we act to decide by deciding to act.