In a culture where leadership is personified as loud, proud, and people-centric, you would perhaps hesitate to picture an introverted personality in charge.
This view is built on a misconception.
Introverts are neither shy nor antisocial. They simply feel most energized in quieter situations involving fewer people, as opposed to larger groups. They need regular solitude to balance out social interaction time. And they like to hyper focus in order to develop a depth of understanding on any topic. None of these preferences should stand in the way of leadership success—and recently, introverted leadership has been gaining attention as more businesses begin to understand how people thrive in the workforce, translating into real dollars for the company.
Introverts are class-act leaders and represented everywhere, from the presidential seats of Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy to business billionaires like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg. They speak up when they have things to say and are quite comfortable with independent thoughts and actions, both their own and those of others. They are observant, creative, and willing to put other people and their vision in the spotlight, epitomizing the hallmarks of leadership.
If you’re an introverted boss, you are in the people business. Building rapport with your team is the key to success, but how to go about it without writhing behind an extraverted facade and becoming completely drained by noon? Here are some key ways that introverted leaders can build professional relationships with employees and colleagues and lead them forward to thrive, grow, and succeed.
1. Remember who you are and own it
Because Introverts tend to analyze things internally, overthinking the situation is common. Introverts sometimes approach scenarios from a reactive stance, already worried about what they will and won’t be able to do in the spotlight. Don’t think of your introversion as a weakness, but a strength. Declare yourself up front and let people know who you are and how you tick. Instead of trying to copy your extraverted colleagues, be clear about your own style and educate your team on what it will look like when you lead them.
You are in this position because you earned it. Remember the skills that got you here in the first place and let that self-confidence guide you to make your leadership healthy. You do not want to fake it ‘till you make it and force yourself to be someone you aren’t. Instead, be honest. Listen to your body and put regular de-stressing systems in place to avoid the fast track to burnout. Be authentically yourself, bring your best self to the table, and your team will respect it.
2. Remember names and positions
Getting to know your team begins with making the most out of first impressions. Welcoming body language includes eye contact with a firm handshake and a smile. Your strength is in one-on-one interaction, and this is where you’ll shine. Make it a goal to acknowledge each employee’s contributions. Don’t underestimate the humble thank you note. When people are seen and valued for their specific contributions, they feel like an indispensable part of the bigger picture.
Which they are.
3. Build relationships, not friendships
Because it’s smart business to keep relationships out of the personal zone, Introverts can lean into another strength and maintain professional boundaries. While it may seem harmless up front to discuss personal issues with your team, it’s all too easy to cross into the gray area of favoritism, gossip, or worse. You may have to pass them up for a promotion, discipline them, or critique them some day, and your relationship should be able to withstand it.
4. Listening is your specialty
Introverts tend to listen and reflect more often than they talk. Use this communication style to your advantage. Employees who can be comfortable around you and speak up honestly and feel heard will trust you sooner. Trust builds loyalty. Personal check-ins are less intimidating and more engaging. Ask open-ended questions that challenge them to innovate, identify, or implement. Articulate your thought process instead of keeping it to yourself and only presenting your own polished conclusion.
Schedule virtual or in person coffee dates. Greet the Extraverts when they return from vacation and ask how they are or what they did. Let an introverted employee know they were missed and valued, but allow them space to volunteer details if they so choose. Honor their personality style and they will honor yours.
5. Respect everyone’s time—including your own—when you have the inevitable meetings
Schedule them in advance with a clear agenda and time frame. State your expectations or objective: clarify what you want out of the meeting so they can give it to you. Before your meeting begins, everyone should have five minutes with a pen and paper to prepare their thoughts. Round table meetings are great vehicles for giving everyone equal speaking opportunities, but even so, you might allow employees to submit their thoughts in writing as well. Extraverts tend to dominate conversations as they talk things out and Introverts will sit back and ruminate. Both have equally vital input to contribute to the team.
Display the minutes as the meeting progresses with key people and objectives clearly marked, so that everyone is literally on the same page. Adjourn when you mean to, whether or not the meeting objective has been met. Use a timer if necessary. Follow up by distributing the minutes along with any concluding remarks and provide opportunities for ongoing feedback via email.
6. Introverts are terrific at leading proactive teams
While extraverted leaders tend to feel threatened when their teams challenge leadership ideas or direction, introverted bosses encourage their team to share ideas and collaborate. Some employees have never experienced a boss who genuinely wants their perspective. Giving your team freedom to be innovative could lead to the next big company idea. Introverts know the value of individual passion and recognize and support new ways of doing if it makes for a better product or culture. This leadership style builds strong, enthusiastic teams.
7. Create a space that is psychologically safe
When you cultivate a quiet demeanor that encourages a culture of compassion, conflicts and mistakes can become opportunities for growth. Feeling safe leads to more innovation and faster problem solving. Curtail your critique and beware of micro-managing, at least until you have the facts. If a team member has a personal crisis that is hindering their work performance, a little understanding goes a long way.
Keeping things drama-free leads to getting more work done as a team. It also frees you to set aside time for necessary introverted solitude. Use your office door or some other symbol to denote your availability. A closed door during predictable times of the day allows you to focus and energize on your own. An open door balances it by making you approachable and accessible. Leading by example, Introverts create a healthy work environment for the team.
8. Be selective and intentional with your inevitable social scenes
Confident Introverts can be misjudged as aloof, cold, or snobbish when passing on social events. It’s difficult for people to follow someone who doesn’t appear to be leading through engagement. Try to orchestrate events where your team can be in the spotlight instead of you. Give them opportunities to present to the group while you take a back seat.
An Introvert can still accept awards, address congress, or present to investors, but they will do so with a calm dignity that is both professional and brief. Once the goals for the party or conference are met, it’s time to leave. The fact is, you won’t be missed unless you don’t show up at all.