Why we need introvert leaders

Woman sitting in front of a laptop. She has a shaved head and is wearing a yellow sweater. There are plans and books on the desk as well as a camera and behind her are several photographs of cityscapes.
Photo by George Milton

If you’re like me, you’ve asked yourself whether an introvert can be a good leader at least once in your career. Maybe you were contemplating whether you should apply for a promotion or maybe you had just stepped into a leadership role and wondered whether you could really hack it.

The answer, of course, is yes.

We need introvert leaders!

Why you may believe introverts can’t be leaders

If you were raised in a North American culture like I was, you would have been engulfed in the extrovert ideal for most of your upbringing. Susan Cain describes this phenomenon in her book as originating at the turn of the 20th century in the US and exemplified in the teachings of Dale Carnegie. In that era, we switched to value salespersonship over other qualities.

This means that you were probably raised with the idea that personal branding and networking were key facets of a successful career. Without the ability to make friends and influence people, you’d never make it far.

For those of us who are more introverted, this may have made career success feel impossible. How can you build the connections you need when you prefer socializing in small groups? How can you get your personal brand across when you prefer not to tout your own successes?

Why we need introvert leaders

As introverts, though, we have a lot to offer the world of leadership. Not all teams need the same type of leader and there are instances where the qualities of an introvert—things like deep thinking and leaving space for others to contribute—will suit a team far better than the typical qualities of an extroverted leader.

So, where do introverts shine?

When teams are specialists

Introverts do a great job when leading teams of specialists. These people typically have a lot of experience and expertise in their field and introverts can lean into their natural strengths to allow these teams to shine!

Although some leadership styles emphasize the importance of monitoring and directing people, these types of teams do not reward that behaviour. Instead, they will thrive under a leader that listens to their expertise while providing them with the vision and context to do their job well.

Leaning into your introvert strengths as a leader will support you to:

  • ask insightful questions that encourage more nuanced thinking,
  • give space to specialists to share their expertise so you can make better decisions, and
  • empower your team to take accountability for their work by leaving space for them to do so.

If you’re used to a more directive leadership style, this can seem counter-intuitive, but I’ve watched authoritarian leadership break down these types of teams and decrease their ability to perform. By leading like an introvert and by providing freedom alongside context and a vision, you can unleash the passion that these individuals naturally have for their work while keeping them on track.

When communication is key

You might not realize this, but introverts are actually great communicators!

While the stereotype may suggest that introverts are shy and unskilled in communicating, that’s actually not always true. Our tendency to think carefully about what we’re saying before we choose to speak can be really useful when messaging really matters. And when communications are sent in writing, this allows us the time to craft our messages carefully.

Leaning into your introvert strengths as a leader will support you to:

  • think about your audience and what they need to know,
  • understand the key messages you’re trying to get across, and
  • carefully craft a message that is both clear and concise.

This may mean that we spend more time at the front-end understanding and crafting our messages to our teams, our customers, or other areas of our organizations. But what we lose on the front-end, we make up for by minimizing misunderstandings after the fact.

When the work is complex

Finally, one of the main things that introverts excel at is focus. Because we enjoy spending time alone, we can often spend more time working on something or thinking about an idea. This pays dividends when the work we’re doing is more complex.

When others may get drawn into the outer world of distraction, introverts are typically more able to remain inwardly focused and work on a task for longer. This allows us to spend the time that’s required to dig into more complex work that rewards focused attention.

Leaning into your introvert strengths as a leader will support you to:

  • give focused attention to complex ideas, processing them more deeply,
  • allow your teams the time they need to focus and comprehend information, and
  • push back against false senses of urgency to allow for considered decision making.

We may get labeled as slow or less confident because of our tendency to be more considered in our decision making. Over the long-term, though, the value of making the right decision at the outset outweighs the value of moving quickly in the moment for most of us.

How does your introversion affect your leadership? Do you find yourself trying to hide to match expectations or do you feel confident to lead in a way that feels natural to you?

If you’re still trying to find your footing as an introvert leader, check out my program, Finding Your Voice. In this 3-month personalized coaching experience, we’ll challenge the extrovert ideal and develop your confidence to lead as an introvert.

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