Leadership for Introverts

I’ve often felt embarrassed that I tend to be introverted. When I was in grade school, friends would come over and ask me to go out to play. Some days I would decide just to stay in and read, then feel guilty about it. What was wrong with me? Was I anti-social?

Later, there were times when I would ask my sister to approach people I hoped to meet because of my reticence to initiate relationships. However, once formed, my relationships tended to last for a very long time. As the years went on, although I was friendly with people in different social circles, I preferred deep conversations with one other person to hanging out with a “gang.”

Having been in leadership roles my whole adult life, I’ve come to understand that introversion can be both an asset and a liability. On the asset side, here's an article that resonated with me on the benefits of being an introvert. At the same time, I've had to increase my awareness of the importance of consciously and completely engaging with other people. I’ve learned that making a personal connection with workshop participants before a program will get us off on the right foot better than reviewing my notes one more time. That “small talk” is a social lubricant, not a meaningless time waster. And I’m still finding my “social media” voice and pushing myself to share in that very public realm.

A series of recent conversations with colleagues prompted me to think about this notion of “leadership for introverts.” Here are some thoughts:

  • The “special sauce” that makes leadership work is a sense of connection. People want to feel they know you, understand you and feel connected to you as the leader. Once that happens, a lot of other things fall into place more easily.
  • Proactively fostering that sense of connection may take more effort for people who tend to be introverted.
  • However, if you’re in a leadership role, you’ll need to make the effort in order to achieve the results you want.

Given those points, what’s an introverted leader to do?

  • Recognize that connection is a pre-requisite for whatever leadership role you’re in.
  • Figure out your best and most authentic way of connecting. Do this fully and completely.
  • Proactively communicate why you behave the way you do and how it enhances your leadership. Otherwise, assumptions will be made, often not favorable.
  • Surround yourself with “connection proxies” but don’t rely solely on them.
  • Build up a reservoir of social capital that you can draw upon when needed.
  • Cultivate explicit renewal strategies based on your personal cadence and be unapologetic about honoring them as best you can. For example, I know that I do best when I have a couple of hours of alone time every day. This enables me to recharge, do my best thinking and get grounded in order to engage again. It’s not always possible but it’s amazing how you can figure out ways of honoring something that’s important for you to be your best self.
  • Never let yourself think, “It should go without saying that the work is getting done” or “I just do the work and keep my head down and that should be enough” if you’re in a leadership role. Connection is just as important.