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
- 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.