How can an introverted manager be an effective leader? The thought seems contradictory because great managers are great talkers, right?
Not necessarily. Introverts can succeed as leaders and managers by tapping other communication skills that actually help them to lead more successfully.
Past U.S. presidents such as Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy and even Barack Obama are known as introverts.
“I don’t think (Obama) doesn’t like people. I know he doesn’t like people. He’s not an extrovert; he’s an introvert,” said political journalist John Heilemann. “I’ve known the guy since 1988. He’s not someone who has a wide circle of friends. He’s not a backslapper and he’s not an arm-twister. He’s a more or less solitary figure who has extraordinary communicative capacities.” — Mother Jones Magazine
Most people who know me would agree that I don’t have the communication abilities of Barack Obama. I only wish.
But I do share one trait with Obama: I’m a major introvert. And I managed to have a long and fairly successful career in middle and senior management despite my lack of gab.
So yes, introverts can succeed as leaders and managers in any field.
The Introverted Geek
I knew early in life that I was an introvert. Despite my horrific social skills, I was a voracious reader and thinker, which are two critical skills for introverted managers. So I got my first management job only five months out of college because my boss thought I had some good ideas.
At a training seminar early in my management career, we did the classic Myers-Briggs testing. When about 30 of us organized ourselves in a line to see how we all ranked for introversion versus extroversion, I was second from the end for introversion.
About ten years later, when I took the test again, I stood in the middle of the line, halfway between introvert and extrovert. I now know the reason for the change. Introverted managers can lead effectively by developing their knowledge, intellect and personal communication style.
“I like getting my energy from dealing with the ideas, pictures, memories, and reactions that are inside my head, in my inner world. I often prefer doing things alone or with one or two people I feel comfortable with. I take time to reflect so that I have a clear idea of what I’ll be doing when I decide to act.” — The Myers & Briggs Foundation
Knowledge and Intellect
A passion for knowledge gives any manager an advantage in a competitive business environment.
Spending time alone to absorb, organize and think about that knowledge also is an advantage. It is especially an advantage for introverts who spent more time alone and less time socializing than extroverts.
Not to generalize, but imagine the extroverted manager who spends a Thursday evening at a network event versus an introverted manager who spends that same evening at home reading “The General Managers” by Harvard business professor John Kotter.
The extrovert’s knowledge base about people expands that night. Meanwhile, the introvert’s knowledge base about ideas expands that night. Both have value to the company. The extrovert isn’t a better employee than the introvert just for being an extrovert. They simply use their available time in different ways to advance their careers.
Personal Communication Style
Introverts who use alone time productively and focus on clear and logical thinking may not realize they are building a communication skill. They are only communicating with themselves. But in reality it’s practice for communicating with other people.
When it comes time to communicate externally, that clear and logical thinking doesn’t vanish. If it is practiced consistently, it shows up in reports, emails and other written communications. It is a major step forward in developing a personal communication style that suits introverts. They are learning how to practice quiet leadership.
Surprisingly, I found over decades in management that the above approach eventually had an impact on my group speaking skills, which is the favorite playground of extroverts.
In time, I began to speak more clearly and logically just as I had learned how to think and write the same way. When I did speak, it was in more careful and concise ways than the extroverts. But the brevity was a style that carried some weight with my bosses.
My social confidence grew along with these skills. I believe that’s why I moved from the far end of the introvert scale to the middle of it.
Don’t Forget Great Listening Skills
I always envied extroverts because they could talk easily to other people. I have known other introverts who have told me the same thing.
Extroverted leaders are often great speakers because they are comfortable with groups, which is their special advantage. Many introverted leaders struggle to become comfortable speaking to small and large groups.
Introverts can learn how to communicate more effectively with groups through a great deal of effort and practice. But they can more easily develop another important communication skill. They can become great listeners.
Managers who are great listeners draw more knowledge and information from people than poor listeners. They generate more trust and learn a lot more about their employees, the operational performance and the work environment in the process.
So despite some perceptions otherwise, introverted managers have plenty of unique skills and advantages versus extroverts that they can develop to compensate for the social discomfort.
Their bosses can recognize that both introverts and extroverts bring special talents and abilities to the workplace as well as different but effective communication styles.