When asked to describe a great leader, which type of person springs to mind? The all-guns-blazing, exuberant networker? Or how about the dominant visionary who flips tradition on its head? Certainly not the understated loner who listens more than they speak, right?
Today, a growing tide of research is turning such outmoded assumptions on their head. Far from being lousy leaders, introverts may have just the right combination to lead organizations in our no-holds-barred, extroverted business culture. They just lead with quiet confidence rather than arrogance. If your style is more of a sensitive intellectual rather than a sleazy salesman, you can still be a sharp and classy leader. You just have to make the most of your strengths.
Preparation, Preparation, Preparation
Preparation, analysis and strategy are key chapters in the introvert’s playbook. Whether you are giving a presentation, networking with colleagues or addressing a team, you don’t wing it. You spend time thinking through your goals and preparing for questions. These are not weaknesses; they are skills that will give you an edge in social situations.
In fact, thorough preparation allows even the most extreme introvert to behave more like an ambivert—someone whose personality sits in the middle of the introversion-extroversion spectrum. That’s because preparation lets you know when to speak and when to listen, when to reflect and when to probe, when to push forward and when to hold back. The result is a calibrated approach—a combination of the extrovert’s assertiveness with the introvert’s quiet confidence for the best of both worlds.
Build Deep and Reciprocal Relationships
When introverts are in the zone, they’re in zone. Your disdain for large-group socializing means you don’t engage in meaningless pursuits like superficial chit chat or blowing your own trumpet. Instead, you give individuals your full attention.
This is an excellent skill. Engaging in meaningful, one-on-one conversation enables you to build clear communication channels based on friendship, credibility and trust. Not only does this allow you to get your vision across in deeper, more personal ways, it also makes your team more willing to offer up ideas for improving the business. People who work under an introverted leader know that their opinions will be heard, and this makes them more proactive. In the same situation, an extroverted leader may feel threatened, which makes them less effective at leading vocal teams.
Harness the Power of Silence
The power of silence can serve as a real strength for the introverted leader. Extroverts are so uncomfortable with silence that they will say anything to fill the gap—and it only takes one foot-in-mouth comment to tarnish their reputation.
By contrast, as an introvert you are good at holding your tongue. You access wisdom when your mind (and your mouth) is quiet, and this allows you to choose your words carefully and correctly. By taking the time to consider the facts and issues before speaking, your responses will convey a sense of reflective wisdom that shows up very powerfully to your peers and your superiors.
Use Technology to Your Advantage
One classic introvert weakness is the undersell. You don’t feel comfortable showing off. You believe there is something noble about hiding your light under a bushel and you prefer to let your results speak for themselves. Unfortunately, self-promotion is a necessary evil if you want to get your ideas across.
As a classic introvert, you have a way with words—you’re just not very comfortable with thinking out loud. Luckily, there’s a platform for getting your vision across in a calm and measured way—the Internet. Personal websites, blogs, newsletters, social media, podcasts and videos are essential tools that allow you to market yourself, boost your personal brand, increase your sphere of influence and articulate your messages in a way that feels authentic to you.
The key takeaway is this: Introverts can stretch and grow as leaders without changing the essence of who they are. You may not have the bold, extroverted exuberance that initially captures people’s hearts and minds, but your calm and measured nature has no less power to lead teams and influence people.