Leadership for Introverts

“Most people don’t know that I’m an introvert.”

I learned as a kid that the quiet ones rarely get the prize. They don’t get the extra credit assignments, or the mentoring or the scholarships, and they don’t get the opportunities to lead their sports teams to victory.  So I learned to present a more confident demeanor, to put myself out in the public’s eye and to be Noticed.  And although I see now, looking back, that I was grossly overcompensating, it worked.  It continues to work.  But at the end of the day, I still need to decompress and I do that alone, often with my laptop or a book, often with some tea, and sometimes with a neat glass of Irish whiskey.

I am candid- blunt- and borderline aggressive.  I like solving puzzles, and I go after challenges.  Being an introvert does not mean I’m shy.  I am incredibly driven- and competitive people often mistake this for competitiveness.  By the way, I don’t give a hoot how you fared vs. me as long as I feel like I won (vs. my own goal or standard, not yours).  At times, I’ve had over 250 people reporting to me daily. When the time came for me to be the public (very public!) face of my company, I pitched and presented our business, our value, and our service in auditoriums, on TV, on radio, and on elevators.  I did it so well that I was asked to guest lecture to public speaking classes! 

So how does this make me an introvert?  Because not matter how well I did, after these very public events, I often needed a lot of time to recover.  

In business, I just want you to do your job with aptitude and fortitude.  I would prefer not to step in and voice my opinion, overcome your fears for you, help you with your love life or help you focus on the right list of priorities.  But I care too much about the outcome to stay quiet if I see you taking the easy way out or going down an ill-thought out path.  I expect you to rise to the occasion and I really am annoyed when you don’t.  Sound bossy?  Yes.  But these are also the qualities of most introvert leaders I know.   

People in leadership positions don’t really get to make the choice to hide.  Our teams *do* need us, our opinion, our guidance.  It’s why we were hired into a management role- so we introverts must step up and step in.  In fact, it has been reported that a full 40% of executives describe themselves as introverts! 

 “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak. Courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”

The problem with the introvert-turned-extroverted leader is that we sometimes forget to step back and NOT jump in.  We are so conditioned to act like extroverts that we do so without realizing and harnessing our own natural power- the power to listen, wait, weigh, and integrate multiple viewpoints and stratagems.

Embracing our inner introvert means we can think first, talk later.  We are more likely to get the last word, and be seen as the “voice of reason” in any contentious debate, or the calm and collected leader in a crisis. We can also integrate what others have been expressing into our own line of reasoning- and gain allies along the way.  We will also be able to give a much deeper, more reasoned and meaningful viewpoint.

So, fellow introverts, I hope that you embrace not only your natural strengths of leading from behind, but also your hard fought skills at leading from the front.  Finding the right balance can require long years of practice and a lot of self reflection (another thing we’re good at!) but can be greatly accelerated and improved with the help of mentors and/or a really great executive coach.  If you are interested in exploring your leadership style- both natural and adopted, and working to present the best help to your organization, consider contacting Skye Team so you can be matched with the right executive coach for you.

-Erin Lewis is an entrepreneurial executive and a contributing writer for Skye Team.  All opinions are her own and are not necessarily the view of Skye Team or the partners of Skye Team.