It’s been said that the “world is built for extroverts”, and the workplace is no exception. Fancy networking event brimming with industry professionals? Allow us to introduce the ever-charismatic extrovert! Open plan offices? An extrovert’s dream! All company brainstorm sessions? Count on your friendly neighbourhood extrovert to be there with bells on, armed with confidence and a whole whack of ideas to share with the group.
Basically, extroverts fit neatly into our idea of what makes someone an “ideal” leader: they’re confident, outspoken and assertive – not attributes you’d normally associate with an introverted individual. Unlike their extroverted counterparts, introverted professionals tend to fly under the radar. They’re quiet, thoughtful and often hesitant to chime in, which can give others the impression that they’re less qualified for leadership roles than the more vocal members of the team.
Thankfully, the number of introverted managers in our midst is on the rise! It seems that everybody’s finally realizing what we introverts have known all along: that we’re just as capable of being a great boss as our extroverted colleagues. If this is brand new information for you, here’s the scoop – introvert managers bring a much-needed balance to a workplace, and possess their own myriad of traits that make them effective and inspiring leaders.
Here’s what you can expect from an introverted manager:
Introverts are infamously quiet, and though they may take a lot of flack about it, it’s one of their biggest advantages in the workplace. Naturally curious about the thoughts and perspectives of others, when introverts sit quietly, they’re not just “not speaking”, they’re actively listening – picking up on small details, tone and subtleties often overlooked by those half-listening, eager for their turn to chime in.
In part due to their superhuman listening skills, introverts are keen observers of everything happening around them. Curious and perceptive, introverts are uniquely gifted at reading situations – they’ll pick up on a shift in body language, the tone used by a colleague, the mood of a meeting. This gives them a unique insight into their environment.
Excellent at communicating
Don’t look so shocked! Just because an introvert isn’t likely to volunteer for a public speaking opportunity, that doesn’t mean they aren’t incredible communicators. Groups can be overwhelming for an introvert, but one on one is where they shine. Empathetic and understanding, and, as we mentioned, great listeners, introverts engage with others in a way that feels comfortable and natural, easily bonding with their team, establishing trust and creating an environment of open communication.
Strong team players
An introvert will never try and steal the spotlight from you, quite the contrary, they’re more likely to push you into the spotlight while they sneak off to somewhere quieter. They value the people in their lives and pride themselves on nurturing these relationships by offering loyalty, support and encouragement. These qualities make them great team players, and also exceptional mentors.
To be clear, introverts are not all “nerdy bookworms” – though some of us would proudly agree that we are. We’re endlessly curious, the more we can learn, the happier we are. Introverts are lifetime learners, jumping at the chance to gain new skills, sharpen their existing knowledge and improve their comprehension about how something works, or in some cases, why it doesn’t.
Critical + creative thinkers
Introverts are a strange blend of analytical and creative – seems like it shouldn’t work, but it does! The power of their imagination is rivaled only by their incredible attention to detail, their unique perspective helping them conceptualize creative solutions to problems that left others stumped.
Planning + organization
Organization may as well be an introvert’s middle name. Their exceptional planning skills helps their team work in confidence, understanding clear timelines, minimizing the likelihood of oversights and ensuring that major deadlines will be met and a thorough, organized project delivered as promised.
Calm amidst chaos
Everything falling apart around you? You’d be lucky to have an introvert nearby to steady the ship. Stressful situations aren’t ideal, but an introvert possesses level-headedness and emotional balance that helps them regain control when things don’t go to plan.
Now, while introverts make great bosses for all those reasons and so many more, it’d be silly to think that their leadership journey will be all smooth sailing. In our blog Understanding Introverts in the Workplace, we dig into the nature of the introvert in more detail, but for the purpose of keeping this article from becoming the length of a novel, we’ll try to keep it brief.
Some of the main challenges introverts may face in a leadership role:
Trying to be something they’re not
After being told for eons that they should speak up, join in and not be so shy, is it any wonder that introverted managers feel pressured to act more like their extroverted counterparts? Many introverts have learned how to present as extroverts, both in their professional and social lives, and many of us have gotten quite good at it, actually.
The thing is, it’s a hard act to keep up – and that’s because it is, at its essence, an act. Too many introverts fall into the trap of playing pretend every day, existing out of their comfort zone and wind up exhausted and burnt out.
Dealing with conflict
Most people don’t love confrontation, but introverts, well, we try to avoid it as much as possible. In a leadership role, there’s bound to be uncomfortable situations that arise – a dispute between employees, somebody not pulling their weight on a big project, having to cut down hours or let someone go.
These situations are a major source of anxiety for many introverts, and while it’s never going to be our favourite part of the job, we can get more comfortable with handling these types of situations. It’s a good idea to deal with issues early on, and chat with an experienced manager to get their advice on how to handle it can help an introvert manage a tough situation with a little more confidence.
Fitting in time to recharge
Being around people all day long exhausting for an introvert, so an introverted manager needs to make sure that they schedule in some much-needed quiet time after a busy day of meetings, training, strategizing and *shudder* small talk.
This alone time is important because it’s how introverts recharge, but more than that – they do their best work when they’re flying solo! Alone, an introvert can lose themselves in their thoughts, reflect on the day and come up with those creative ideas that they’re famous for.
Ying + yang
Being in a social setting drains an introvert’s battery, and they recharge when they’re alone. Extroverts, on the other hand, feel drained when they’re alone too long, and need the energy of other people to recharge – so how can these two very different personality types work together in harmony?
It’s not as tough as it sounds, honestly. Instead of focusing on all the (many, many) ways that introverts and extroverts are different, try thinking about how their unique styles complement one another – where one struggles, the other shines, and vice versa.
Generally, extroverts thrive when they can:
Work in teams
Extroverts want to bounce ideas off somebody – or a bunch of somebodies! Group projects were right up their alley in university, and teamwork remains one of their strengths in the working world.
Juggle several projects at once
Sitting in one place all day working on a single task? Hard pass. Unlike introverts who like a clear schedule and the opportunity to quietly focus, extroverts thrive when they can bounce from one project to another and think on their feet, they’re happy to jump in if something comes up without warning and having variety in their workday is key to keeping them engaged.
Have their ideas acknowledged
And get ready, because there’s going to be a lot of them! The volume of ideas you’ll get from an extroverted employee might be overwhelming for an introvert, who prefers to take time alone to think, then come up with one idea they consider well-thought out.
As an extrovert is talking, their wheels are turning and thinking out loud helps them generate their best ideas – and their worst (hey, they can’t all be gold). You don’t need to say you love everything that comes out of an extrovert’s mouth, but you do need to be a receptive audience.
Few things crush an extrovert’s spirit faster than excitedly spit balling thoughts and ideas only to be met with a disengaged audience – so actively listen, be responsive and provide relevant feedback.
Check in on your extroverted employee regularly – in both team meetings as well as one-on-ones. The passion and enthusiasm they bring to every discussion and conversation keeps them feeling energized, and their excitement and positive attitude might just rub off on the rest of the team, too.
Stretch their legs
Don’t make an extrovert sit still for too long, unless your goal is to see a major decline in their productivity. To stay engaged and stimulated in what they’re working on, extroverts need to be given the freedom to take a quick walk with a teammate or chat with a colleague in the kitchen, then they’ll be ready to tackle the next part of their day.
Making the necessary adjustments
When you step into a leadership role, it goes almost without saying that you’ll be managing people whose personalities don’t perfectly mirror your own – and those individuals will likely require different management and communication styles than you’re used to.
Understandably, that can be an overwhelming thought for a new manager who wants to make sure every member of their team feels motivated, engaged and supported in their role. It’s key for an introverted manager to take the time to learn about each of their employees individually – the way an extrovert works may seem backwards at first, but the more you learn, the more insight you’ll gain into what works (and what doesn’t).
Here are some ways an introverted manager can shine (without burning themselves out in the process):
Encourage frank and open conversations with your entire team, and approach these discussions with your natural curiosity, empathy and understanding.
Don’t try to wing it
By this stage of your career, you probably know that preparation is essential – allowing you to speak more confidently and express yourself more clearly. Make sure that you schedule in time to prep for meetings with your team and fellow managers, ensuring you can chime in along with everyone else.
Take your time
You don’t need to respond immediately. If your employee comes to you with a question and you’re not sure how to respond, communicate that. Let them know you appreciate the question and that you’ll look into it and get back to them once you have more information.
Make time for downtime
You’re not going to need less solo time just because you’re a manager now! Go ahead and take your lunch break alone, or schedule in time in the afternoon to get out of the office on your own and go for a walk. Getting in that downtime is crucial for an introverted manager, without it you won’t be able to give your team the attention and support they need.
You want your team to be open with you, so be open with them, too. Let them know you need space when you’re working on something that requires a lot of focus. Make sure they know when you’ll be unavailable and make a habit of putting on your OOO on or scheduling a private appointment into your calendar.
And if your rowdy bunch of extroverts is bombarding you with ideas and questions 24/7, it’s okay to let them know that you’ll review everything and meet with them at an agreed upon date to discuss.
To sum up
Above all else, embrace your introversion! Introverts avoid the spotlight, but that doesn’t mean they can’t absolutely shine as leaders. And remember, you’re not an extrovert, so lean on your personal strengths and don’t waste time and energy comparing yourself to the extroverted leaders in your company.