Ask an introvert and an extrovert what defines a great social evening. Introverts enjoy spending time with one or a very select number of individuals. In-depth conversations are rewarding. Extroverts love talking to many people; the more they engage, the more they are fired up. They are like solar panels sucking up energy. An introvert needs time to reflect, percolate on ideas and carefully consider their options. They do reach out but also need to pull in and weigh the data. Society has popularized extroverts; society values extroverts. Think of most of our advertisements. Fun is always in the context of a party, large gatherings, and big venues. Fun is never portrayed as putting on your noise-cancelling headset to listen to Drake’s latest CD, or watching a movie by yourself on your iPad, or completing the world’s largest crossword puzzle. Introverts get a bad rap; they are seen as shy, cool and detached. Society has read introverts wrong.
Think of the composition of great teams. Teams with synergies require balance. If a team was made up of all extroverts, great ideas may get lost with all that static. As it is, introverts need to work hard to interject themselves. A significant number of my executive coaching clients are introverts; they are being asked by their leaders to have a voice at the table, which is not always easy for them. Many believe it is important to be polite and wait their turn. By then it’s too late; a peer jumps in and takes the glory. One of my coaching clients generally resists speaking up; she worries she doesn’t have all the answers. I asked her to think about her colleagues’ contributions. I challenged her and suggested that their input may indeed be of value or at times there may be lots of bravado with minimal business rationale. Should she want to advance as a leader, she will be required to challenge her peers. If not, she runs the risk of being a follower. This is echoed by one of my most senior clients when he stated, “If members of my executive team do not speak up, I assume they have nothing to say.”
It is in many ways easier for an introvert to shift towards being more outward than for extroverts to restrain themselves. Extroverts work hard to stay still, however, a majority is advised by their managers to work on their listening skills. Here’s a case in point. One of my clients decided I needed some feedback. He stated that I should formulate my leadership guidance in the context of “he shoots, he scores.” I asked him what he meant by that and he said, “Talk faster. I should get what I need from you within 5–10 minutes.” I reminded him that the platform for our coaching engagement was designed to enhance his stakeholder capabilities. This meant actively listening and learning to incorporate other views so as to produce more robust solutions.
When we watch introverts, their leadership style does not fit the stereotype of front-of-the-room charismatic presence. Their energy is not bouncing off the walls. They have a different vibe; it’s cool, it’s down low. I would argue vehemently that introverts are indeed charismatic, just in a different way. They are experts at lobbying for support; they do it by attracting one vote at a time. Before they know it, they have created a groundswell. They are great listeners, they are methodical, they vet ideas, and they provide the necessary due diligence. So all of you introverts take heed. You have earned an equal place as impactful leaders.
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