Can Introverts be Leaders?

The world we live in is unfairly optimized for extroverts. Can an introvert be even thinking of being successful, let alone lead others? This is a question I get asked by my most introverted clients trying to progress in their careers.

Introverts are often tagged as shy and lacking confidence. In some cases, they are even considered phobic, which is actually NOT true. Being an introvert is just a communication preference. As extroverts get energized by being around people, introverts need quiet time to recharge and get their energy by being with themselves.

There is also a common misbelief that introverts are not as successful as extroverts in organizations. The truth is quite the opposite. Most introverts are blessed with powerful listening skills vs. their extrovert counterparts. A good listener can process and generate better ideas for a company that can be instrumental for an organization. As an introvert, you can be as or sometimes more successful than your extrovert counterparts. In my career, I have had the privilege of working with multiple introverted leaders. They led their organizations with great empathy and competence as their extrovert counterparts (sometimes even better – can’t discount the power of active listening).

So here comes the question:

How introverts can lead and thrive in an extrovert (basically most) environments?

  • Own your leadership style– You don’t have to feel wrong about being an introvert. Introverts are often misunderstood as anti-social. The easiest way to tackle it is by owning it. Owning your introversion and even mentioning it to your fellow leaders will make you feel more confident and help them understand your boundaries.
  • Network like an introvert – Social interactions and networking are critical for leaders to create relationships across the organization. But you can network like an introvert. Every introvert is different, but you can choose your style. Maybe you are okay with coffee meetings and not flashy cocktails parties. You may prefer quieter one on one events vs. meetups with hundred of people. As an introvert, you should prioritize protecting your energy. A good question to ask is “how important” is the event and “how much energy” it will take from me? Do not go beyond your threshold. Maybe have a weekly budget for hours that you can use for networking or being around people. If you are not comfortable with a particular type of networking, you can always suggest your preference as “hey, tonight’s cocktail party might be too loud for me but let’s have coffee tomorrow.”
  • Use your superpowers – Introverts can actively listen to you as if there is no one else around. In this noisy world, people are drawn to this quality. Imagine a world where everyone was talking, and no one was actually listening (ouch). Because of this quality, Introverts are good at building fewer but deeper connections and relationships. These strong connections can be beneficial for organizations in the long run. Use these superpowers to your advantage.
  • Make your opposite personality leader as your allies: We all have different personalities and preferences, and that’s why collaborating with people with opposite personality traits is critical. It’s good to have partnered with opposite personalities but make sure those allies have your best interest at heart. It’s much easier to tag-team with such allies for the progress of your career. Being open and transparent with your extrovert friends is important too. The more they understand you, the better you’ll work together.
  • Talking is not the only way to communicate – When we think of a great leader – we all imagine a person on stage giving a great speech and people clapping for them once they’ve finished talking. But leadership comes in many forms and styles. I have personally worked with an introverted leader who is hugely respected for his approachability. He keeps the channels of communications open by having a dedicated email address that can be used by any of his employees to confidentially reach him. He does individual coffee chats with all level of employees at his organization. He also writes a blog about his philosophy of leadership. Talking is just one way of communication – there are other ways that introverts can leverage too.

Being an introvert may not be as sexy as being an extrovert, but you should never try to force yourself to act like an extrovert. It’s hard to hide your discomfort, and people will see that. Be confident and own your introversion, manage your energy, use your introvert-super-powers of active listening, build deep relationships and share your unique perspectives that will make you valuable to any organization. 

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