You may think that leadership and introversion don’t go together. Why would anyone blame you? Just take a look at some of the most prominent and successful leaders across history. Bill Clinton, Steve Jobs, Margaret Thatcher—all extroverts. Studies show that 96 percent of leaders report as being extroverted.
However, often overlooked is the fact that other great leaders, past and present, are also introverts. Take Mother Teresa, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg as just a few examples. So, how do introverts get their chance to shine? Let’s explore this further.
What does it mean to be an introvert?
As a small business owner and self-confessed introvert, I’ve often questioned my ability to make my presence known in a world full of extroverted leaders.
According to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (a personality test based on a series of preferences), I am what is deemed an INFJ, or an “Advocate.” The first pair of preferences—either for extraversion (E) or introversion (I)—is not about whether you are an outgoing person or a shrinking violet. Instead, it is about determining where you like to direct your energy and attention.
Do you feel energized from being around other people, or do you prefer to take the time to reflect and work through ideas on your own? They are two different ways of being, but is one really better than the other?
Why introverts often deliver better outcomes
Susan Cain, the world’s leading introvert expert, writes in an article for Training Mag that introverts often choose to be in leadership positions because they care about a cause and not because they want the opportunity to show off their larger-than-life personalities.
Because of this, introverted leaders are trusted by those who want to follow and listen to someone with a genuine commitment to something. Cain adds that, by drawing on their natural strengths as leaders, introverts often outperform their extroverted counterparts.
This sentiment is echoed in a study documented in the Harvard Business Review, which looked at how followers responded to both introverted and extroverted leaders. The findings highlighted the point that introverted leaders listened to employees and made them feel valued when contributing ideas, therefore motivating them to work hard.
On the other hand, extroverted leaders were unreceptive to proactive employees and felt threatened by their contributions to discussions. The researchers suggest that the best combination for work outcomes is to have an introverted leader with proactive followers.
Personality change not required
Despite the research, the stereotype still endures that extroverts make better bosses. In a 2006 survey, 65 percent of senior corporate executives viewed introversion as a barrier to leadership.
Anett Grant, writing for Quiet Rev, actually disputes the long-standing belief that introverts must change their personality to exude a strong sense of leadership. Instead, she says that they should learn a few physical skills.
5 tips for developing leadership presence
1. Adopt a strong stance
It’s really important that, whether delivering a presentation or chairing a meeting, you give off a confident vibe through your body language.
If you’re standing, avoid swaying by placing one foot in front of the other. When seated, make sure you’re comfortable so that you are able to move without shifting your weight. It’s all about balance and projecting a strong presence when in the company of others.
2. Focus your gaze
Giving an audience your undivided attention is not about staring into their eyes for prolonged periods of time. In fact, this can make you and your audience feel unnecessarily awkward.
Instead, ensure that each person receives a few seconds of unbroken eye contact. This is a great way to connect on an individual level when addressing a large group of people—a common fear of introverts and extroverts alike.
3. Develop vocal resonance
Think about the tone and level of voice that exudes authority. A high, nasally voice probably doesn’t spring to mind.
Grant notes that a voice resonated in the mouth, as opposed to the nasal passages or throat, is more associated with leadership. Learning to relax your mouth and not closing your throat will ensure your message is delivered in a more convincing, genuine fashion.
4. Keep your gestures smooth
It can be extremely off-putting when a presenter is overly grand with their hand movements or continually taps their feet.
Use gestures carefully so that they enhance the message you’re trying to deliver, rather than convey your mood. Highlight your message with fluid hand movements and minimize any nervous habits that may detract from what you’re saying.
5. Move with purpose
Similar to using smooth gestures, any movement you make while delivering a presentation or talk to a group of people should be deliberate and connected to the flow of your message.
For example, if you feel like you’re audience is losing interest or you want to emphasize a particular point, move across the room then stop suddenly. This alone will gain the audience’s attention and, without saying a word, you’ve created a strong, bold impression.
Take advantage of your strengths as an introvert
Even though introverts may not come across as being a strong physical presence, there is much research to suggest that there are other areas in which they excel.
Jennifer Kahnweiler, author of “Quiet Influence: The Introvert’s Guide To Making A Difference,” said in an interview for Red Cape Revolution that there are several strengths that introverts naturally possess.
Introvert strengths include:
- Taking quiet time—having a chance to be creative and become more self aware.
- Carefully preparing things so they feel and are more confident.
- Listening attentively and building rapport with people.
- Engaging in focused, one-on-one conversation and providing encouragement to others.
- Planning and writing ideas on paper, allowing thoughts to be carefully organized.
- Connecting, influencing, and imparting key messages via social media.
More tips for success as an introverted leader
So far, we’ve taken a look at some of the strengths and areas in which introverts thrive. If you’re still uncertain as to how best to harness your strengths to become a confident, competent leader, here are Susan Cain’s tips for success.
Don’t feel bad about being an introvert
Know that being labelled as an introvert is no longer synonymous with being a poor leader and that you should embrace the traits that make you who you are. Being an introverted leader can actually be an advantage when it comes to employee satisfaction, motivation, and productivity.
Use strategic breaks
Sometimes, being a leader and business owner means having to do things that push introverts out of their comfort zone.
This can be energy sapping, so to restore and recharge, take regular breaks and make time for yourself. Don’t plan back-to-back meetings, otherwise you may find yourself burned out by the end of a busy day.
Connect with employees your own way
If you’re not one for making grand gestures for high-performing employees, don’t force it.
Doug Conant, former CEO for Campbell Soup, was loved by his employees due to his humane approach to leadership. He was renowned for his handwritten notes of gratitude, of which there were more than 30,000 given to employees during his time as CEO.
Schedule time to connect face-to-face
One of the best leaders I’ve been lucky enough to work for spent the first part of their morning walking around each employee’s desk and asking how they are. This was a great way for them to interact on a personal level and make use of their active listening skills.
If you want to build positive relationships with your staff, you could also book in one-on-one meetings to ensure each team member feels valued and listened to.
Make great decisions in solitude
Instead of making crucial decisions in high-pressure environments such as meetings, resist the need to act quickly and give yourself time to think. By doing so, you’re more likely to make a strong decision and feel confident that it is the right thing to do.
Whether you have harnessed your introvert traits for the betterment of your business or are struggling to make your mark as a leader in an extroverted world, know that you’re not alone.
Yes, there may be nine Bill Clintons for every Bill Gates, but this doesn’t mean introverts make less of an impact in the leadership realm. Your very tendencies to listen, care, and think ideas through are the things that can set you apart from the majority. Use this to your advantage and try not to shy away from being the best leader you can be, introverted or otherwise.