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Leading as an Introvert

Although more than half the population identifies as Introverts, only 39% of top executives and senior leaders in the US are introverts.  And, 65% of executives said they perceive introversion as a potential barrier to leadership, with only 6% believing introverts make better leaders.

As an introvert myself, I felt this astutely when I first became a manager.  The transition to a day filled with meetings was exhausting!  And suddenly my role had a higher expectation around actively engaging in these meetings and attending networking events with other leaders and vendors.

Susan Cain’s book Quiet was a powerful read on the value of an introverted approach.  It also brought forward for me the realization that if I kept quiet and didn’t share my ideas and perspectives, no one would know that I had good ideas and perspectives.  It helped me recognize that I needed to balance my introverted tendencies with extroverted approaches to influence leadership and support my team’s work.

Over the years, I found many approaches that helped me lean into my strengths as an introvert while balancing with areas to push myself to maximize my impact for my team overall.  As some areas to consider as an introvert in leadership:

Influence in ways that feel natural - Our methods of working are expanding, with more and more opportunities to influence through thoughtful written communication, async comments, and remote-first meetings which may enable different levels of comfort.  Figure out where you feel most comfortable to share your perspectives and lean into them.  I loved opportunities to think through written comments as well as 1:1s and deep relationships, where I could find other supporters of my perspectives in a manner that felt less intimidating than larger groups.

Grow your comfort zone - It is unavoidable that to have influence you will need to speak up at times.  You don’t get any credit for ideas you never share.  But, be thoughtful about how to grow your comfort zone to increase the arenas where you feel comfortable sharing.  Maybe a small working group feels like an easier starting point, or meetings with a trusted partner.  Some are more comfortable presenting to a larger audience vs a smaller discussion group.  When you have success sharing your perspectives, make sure to reflect on it and internalize the successes to help grow your comfort zone and recognize that what you can do and is even, dare I say, easy for you is growing.

Find methods to recharge - Introversion does not mean that you cannot engage with other people, but it does mean that you tend to get your energy on your own in quieter activities.  If you know this about yourself, lean into this.  Can you create short walking breaks in your day?  Are you able to do some heads-down work before a bigger meeting with an intimidating group?  Do you need a night at home after a large networking event?  Planning these into your schedule can help ensure you’re managing your energy.  

This is also an area where the more you practice, the easier this may become - you can grow your comfort zone here as well. While I found the back-to-back meetings and regular social events of management tiring when I first became a manager, with time I got used to this schedule and learned how to keep my energy up.  Leaning into parts I strongly enjoyed - strong relationships, challenging and interesting questions, and opportunities for impact - helped me manage my energy.

Bring forward your introvert strengths - While introverted leadership may feel like a less straightforward path in our work culture that thinks the first to speak in the room is the smartest, there are many strengths introverts bring to the table.  We tend to be thoughtful listeners and powerful thinkers.  This enables us to be strong and supportive team leaders who often surface creative and novel solutions hours after an initial discussion.  Lean into your strengths as an introvert and bring that unique perspective to the table.

What’s worked for you as an introverted leader?  And for our extroverted allies, what do you wish introverts brought into their leadership to increase our impact?

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