5 Reasons Why Introverts Can Make Excellent Leaders And Steps To Become One
Shut your eyes for a moment and picture a leader.
How would you describe that leader?
Most people would use terms like “charismatic, dynamic and outspoken”. Terms often associated with extroverts.
With leadership so often affiliated with extroverts, is it more difficult for introverted leaders to excel?
I don’t think so.
I hope to reveal to introverts their hidden leadership talents and provide some actionable tips to enhance these qualities.
Here are 5 reasons why introverts can make excellent leaders:
In Texas Hold’em, “poker tells” are unintentional signs your opponent gives off. These signs give you a prediction of their next move.
Most experienced players know that if you reach for your chips to bet and your opponent does the same, it’s a sign that they have a weak hand. The reason is that the weaker hand a person has, the more likely they are to gesture to prevent you from betting.
In a leadership role, “poker tells” are everywhere, you just have to activate your spidey senses to catch them.
An introvert’s favourite tool is their observation goggles.
They have an innate ability to observe the “poker tells” around them and use these signals to evaluate their situation. Like Sherlock Holmes at a crime scene, introverts will use every small detail to their advantage.
While extroverts prefer to jump right in and learn through first-hand experience, introverts prefer to sit back and watch their surroundings intently. Only after they feel like they have healthy a grasp of the situation, would they feel comfortable taking action or voicing their opinion.
While it’s true that sometimes introverts may be susceptible to analysis paralysis, generally, that extra time spent observing and planning can help an introverted leader make a better decision.
If harnessed correctly, an introvert’s observation powers can be one of their greatest leadership strengths.
Introverted Action SteP:
Monitor the pulse of your organization by watching for signs your followers give off.
Look for clues such as:
how people are feeling
the mood of the room
the level of morale
the motives of others
a weak link on the team
hostility towards a certain person
For example, if you perceive early on that there is a weak link in the team, you can be proactive by creating a growth plan for that individual and filling in the gaps where they are weak.
There’s a multitude of different signals you can pick up on. Use your intuition to sense the vibe of the situation and make an educated decision from there.
Using your observation faculties will give you a great overall picture of your team and allow you to make smart choices for your organization.
2. Introverts Can Be Great Listeners
“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” - Theodore Roosevelt
Jim Breyer, a Managing Partner of Accel Partners, talks about how one of Mark Zuckerberg’s greatest strengths as a leader is his ability to listen.
Some people feel as though they have all the answers; Mark Zuckerberg is the CEO of a multi-billion dollar company and he still believes he has more to learn.
The best way to learn is through listening.
You can shout at someone until your face is blue, but it doesn’t mean you’ve swayed their opinion in the slightest. Anyone will attest that when you feel heard, you are more likely to hear.
Managers at retail stores understand this better than anybody.
Picture this scenario:
“LET ME TALK TO YOUR MANAGER!” - angry middle-class woman
*Poof* comes the manager in his/her customer service cape.
The manager spends 45 minutes listening intently to the customer’s MANY concerns.
The customer gets calmer with each sentence
The customer does a 180-degree shift and morphs into the friendliest person you’ve ever met
Now imagine if the manager came out swinging with their verbal swords instead of tipping their hat. We don’t even have to reenact the scene and you already know how that plays out (Not well).
Some extroverts, especially those more dominant in nature, can rub people the wrong way when delivering their message. These extroverts have a tendency to value speaking over listening.
Introverts have a strong capacity for empathy. They are naturally more in tune with how others receive their message, earning them permission to influence the other person.
Listening is a key to influence. The good news for introverts is that we’re usually awesome listeners!
Introverted Action Step:
Dedicate yourself to be a WORLD CLASS listener. Even amongst introverts.
Some practical listening tips:
Listen to listen, not to respond
Many people hear a trigger word and formulate a response in their heads before fully hearing what the other person has to say. Resist that urge!
“Seek first to understand before being understood.” - Steve K. Covey
Listen for the meaning and message behind what the other person is trying to say. Once you’ve truly put yourself in their shoes, your response could be very different.
Be careful of selective hearing
Some people are so accustomed to selective hearing that they can zone in and out of conversations and still sustain a chat with generic responses. While it saves you energy, you’re probably not connecting with the person.
Don’t worry about your body language, just focus on what they are saying
Many people fall into a mental frenzy of questioning their own body language in conversation: “Where do I look when talking with someone?”
You might be bored to death by the topic of discussion but find a reason to listen. If you find yourself disinterested with the subject, find out why the other person is so interested. It might spark a deeper appreciation in you. It might help you to relate to the next person you speak with on that topic.
3. Introverts Have Strong Self-Awareness
Daniel Goleman, an American psychologist who helped popularize emotional intelligence, states that there are four key elements to EQ (emotional quotient):
As you can see, self-awareness is one of the four essential qualities in emotional intelligence.
Self-awareness was considered the most important capability for a leader to develop according to MIT sloan management review.
So are introverts generally more self-aware?
Introverts have an active dialogue running in their heads. They spend a great deal of time examining their own experiences internally. They learn a lot about themselves through this reflection and it helps to develop their self-awareness.
How does that translate into leadership?
A self-aware leader can objectively evaluate their own actions and how it impacts others. With that in mind, they can make adjustments to better influence their team.
Introverted action step:
Take 5 - 15 minutes each day to reflect on your leadership interactions.
What did you do well? How could you have acted differently to yield a different result?
You would be surprised at how much you can discover about yourself by picturing your own life in a bird’s eye perspective.
Self-awareness can sometimes turn into self-deprecation. Be careful not to let your negative thoughts drift too far. The key is to have an accurate depiction of yourself, both in the positive aspects and the areas of improvement.
4. Introverts Give Thoughtful Insights
I worked in a sales environment a few years ago dominated by extroverts.
Every week, we’d have meetings where our manager would bring up new topics and encourage us to share our ideas and feedback.
The extroverts would monopolize the conversation with their endless insights. When my manager asked me what I thought, there were many times I would pass, or share a half-hearted/ half-formulated idea.
A few hours later… Ding! I would have an awesome idea and foolproof plan ready at my disposal.
I couldn’t help but think “I wish I thought of this during the meeting!”
Today, I understand that it wasn’t because I was slower than my extroverted counterparts (though the thought crept into my mind at the time), but that I just had a different thought pattern when it came to ideas.
I understand now that while extroverts like to think out loud, introverts tend to mentally rehearse their ideas.
Here’s an image to illustrate the difference between the two thought processes:
Introverts draw from their past experiences to help with navigating the future.
Introverts may need more time to come up with an idea or plan, but it’s rare that an introvert will present an unfiltered idea that isn’t thought out.
This trait makes introverts more thoughtful in their insights.
Introverted action steps:
Action step #1: If possible, take time to thoroughly prepare for your meetings so that you have well thought out ideas in your arsenal
Action Step #2: Find a go-to space and time in your day where you can do some deep thinking to flesh out any ideas you have.
5. Any Personality Type Can Build Trust
You don’t have to be bigger than life to be a leader, but a mandatory trait for effective leadership is the ability to build trust.
Now I know this last reason is not specific to introverts, but I included this subject in here for a reason. Introverts can sometimes look at a strong extroverted leader and start doubting themselves, wondering if they can ever be as good of a leader.
Understanding this concept helped me to realize that the core of leadership is not inherent to a personality type. The core of leadership is in building trust.
The good news is, ANY personality type has the ability to build trust!
So how does a leader build trust?
You and I have an innate sense when we trust someone, but it’s difficult to articulate why we trust that person.
“To build trust, a leader must exhibit competency, connection, and character” - John Maxwell
Character can be an elusive concept. It’s often mentioned but rarely defined.
To clarify what character entails, here’s a checklist of character qualities below:
Integrity - I make commitments to myself that I keep. I am brutally honest with myself and those around me. I am truthful even when it hurts.
Authenticity - I am myself with everyone. I don’t play politics or games. I don’t try to be something I am not.
Discipline - I do the right thing even when it’s hard or when I don’t feel like it.
Gratefulness - I make it a habit to be thankful for most, if not all things in my life. I can honestly say that I am a thankful person and often express my gratitude.
Gentleness - My life is free from outbursts of selfish, anger or rage. I practice giving a soft answer to turn away criticism, condemnation, rejection, complaint or anger.
Humility - I have a healthy view of my own importance. I do not think less of myself but I think of myself less.
Pure Attitudes - I have no hate, ill will, ill intentions, or malice towards any other person on this earth.
Peacemaking - I don’t just stand by and allow the division to fester without trying to get involved to bring peace.
Boldness - I strive to make the right choices with a willingness to take risks in spite of fear.
Compassion In Giving - My compassion to help others leads me to give. Generosity and philanthropy is an active part of my life.
Persistence - I hang in there when things get difficult and inconvenient. I refuse to give up if the mission is worthwhile.
Submission - I am willing to honour those in authority and do not resist even if they are less competent or gifted.
Forgiving - I hold no resentment, bitterness or grudges against any individual and have fully forgiven anyone who has ever hurt me.
Restitution - If I have wronged anyone, I strive to make restitution.
Selfish Ambition - I have laid aside jealousy of another’s successes and stopped comparing myself with others, only a better version of me.
Truthfulness - Honesty is a regular practice in my life. I avoid white lies, flattery, and exaggeration.
Tongue Stewardship - I avoid gossip, slander, biting criticism and harshness.
Hardworking - I value discipline and effort. I regularly give my best.
I once attended a leadership seminar where I was asked to describe the traits of an ideal leader. I voiced many of the traits above. I was then asked to rate myself on the same traits that I had previously mentioned.
That was a great self-awareness exercise for me. It gave me a clearer picture of my character strengths and flaws.
While followers rarely forgive a slip up in character, they are more lenient with competency, especially if there is a foundation of connection and character built.
Not to say a leader has unlimited currency for incompetence.
Consistent competence will help a leader earn respect from their followers.
To build competence, I recommend creating an intentional plan of attack to accelerate in your craft. I suggest following John Maxwell’s rule of 5, which states that if you do 5 things related to your craft each day (until it becomes a habit), you will eventually reach your competency goal.
For example, if you’re a soccer player, you might do cardio, juggle, stretch, eat right and practice drills every day.
Very few people put in work day after day to improve. Follow the rule of 5 and develop your competence.
Building relationships are one of the fastest ways to increase your influence.
Spend time learning about your followers:
Learn about what they like, what they dislike
Learn about their dreams, visions, and goals
Learn about their fears and their insecurities
Learn about their backgrounds and experiences
Learn about what makes them emotional
Learn about what makes them tick
The more you learn about a person, the deeper you can connect with them.
While there’s merit in pulling from the strength of your personality type, you have the potential to be a strong leader whether you’re an introvert or extrovert. I added this last point in here to reinforce the fact that leadership is built first on the foundation of your character-ethic, before your personality-ethic.
“We were surprised, shocked really, to discover the type of leadership required for turning a good company into a great one. Compared to high-profile leaders with big personalities who make headlines and become celebrities, the good-to-great leaders seem to have come from Mars. Self-effacing, quiet, reserved, even shy—these leaders are a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will. They are more like Lincoln and Socrates than Patton or Caesar.”
― Jim Collins
Introverts have a tendency to shy away from leadership for various reasons. Some introverts avoid leadership because they lack confidence, some think they won’t enjoy the role, and some think that they are at a handicap due to their more timid traits.
You and I need to adopt the foundational belief that Introverts CAN and HAVE made outstanding leaders.
In the book Good to Great, author Jim Collins describes how one of the main components of companies that establish sustainable excellence is transformational leadership. He goes on to say that from his data collection, the transformational leaders more often than not, have been introverts.
My hope is that I helped debunk the myth for you that introverted leaders are inferior to extroverted leaders. More importantly, I want to empower you to step up to the plate and start emerging as a leader with your unique introverted personality.