Hopelessly Introverted? You’ll Make A Great Leader.
Let’s do a quick word association: When I say introvert, what’s the first word that comes to mind? If you’re like most people, you probably thought of words like quiet, shy and reserved. How many of you came up with leader? Are those crickets I hear?
While introverted leader may sound like an oxymoron to some, Jennifer Kahnweiler finds the phrase perfectly natural. A professional speaker and author of The Introverted Leader: Building on Your Quiet Strength and Quiet Influence: The Introvert’s Guide to Making a Difference, Kahnweiler believes introverts are natural leaders. The key, she says, is embracing their natural traits rather than trying to force themselves to act like extroverts.
“It is exhausting to act like someone else,” she explains. “Most who do this will burn out.” Kahnweiler believes that a better approach for introverts is to engage with people and deliver value in a way that fits their temperament. “Introverts have so many strengths, like taking quiet time and preparation,” she says. “They get results when they tap into what is natural for them.”
We’re fascinated by Kahnweiler’s ideas and wanted to learn more, so we probed her with questions. Read on to find out how introverts can capitalize on their strengths, why they make terrific bosses and what extroverts can learn from them.
Join us Wednesday, February 18 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. ET in Connect: Professional Women’s Network
when speaker and author Jennifer Kahnweiler will be answering your questions about introverts at work!
LINKEDIN: You recommend that introverts leverage six key strengths in order to be effective leaders. Can you explain these strengths?
- Take quiet time. Introverts crave a period of solitude that provides them with a powerful source of creativity and self-awareness. Prioritize quiet time and take advantage of it by scheduling it in a calendar. Dim the lights, turn off the radio and reduce distractions from technology.
- Carefully prepare. Introverts feel more comfortable and are able to anticipate objections with preparation. Do the research and prepare answers to foresee possible speed bumps.
- Be attentive. Listening helps introverts establish rapport and mutual understanding. Slow down, get face-to-face, observe body language, ask questions and serve as a sounding board for others.
- Focus the conversation. Introverts excel at the serious, purpose-driven, one-on-one interactions vital for winning people over. This can spark learning, provide encouragement to others, work through conflict and more. Sometimes taking it off the e-mail page makes all the difference.
- Write it down. Introverts use this skill to influence others through deep, authentic, well-developed arguments. Writing helps clarify what’s important to them and can motivate others to action.
- Purposefully use social media. Introverts naturally use social media in a thoughtful and more effective way. Social media has the power to develop and grow relationships, achieve visibility, and mobilize people. It also gives us the chance to teach and learn.
LINKEDIN: Many introverts assume that because they’re not outgoing, they’re not cut out to be leaders. In your experience, what are some of the traits that make introverts excel as leaders?
KAHNWEILER: Introverts are leaders. They are some of the best bosses people say they ever had. One of the key strengths they exhibit as leaders is listening. In fact, research done by Adam Grant and his colleagues several years ago revealed that introverted leaders were the best kind to have with extroverted employees because of this fact. Those teams achieved high levels of performance. The 4 P’s is a process I designed based on what I learned from interviewing and working with successful introverted leaders. First they PREPARE for the people part as much as the task itself. Next they have PRESENCE – they are in the moment and engaged without distraction. Next they PUSH – they stretch themselves and help their teams to the same. Finally, they PRACTICE – they are continually practicing and refining their leadership skills.
LINKEDIN: Just the idea of networking strikes terror into the hearts of introverts. Do you have any tips to help make it bearable—even enjoyable—for them?
KAHNWEILER: I think everyone dreads those events. Here are six tips to make them productive:
- Get there early before the crowds and even offer to help the organizer.
- You can introduce the person you are talking with to someone else by looking at their name tag. Then feel free to exit the conversation and move on.
- Come prepared with a few talking points. What do you want to learn about? What have you been up to lately? You can even pose that last question to the person you are talking with. The idea is to try and find some things in common.
- It is okay to take breaks. Honor your need to recharge.
- It may be okay to simply make an appearance. Decide how long you want to stay and then commit to talk to a certain number of people.
- Think about using social media to do some pre-event reconnaissance. One guy found out that a CEO he wanted to meet was involved in Habitat for Humanity and asked him about it at the event. He established immediate rapport. LinkedIn is a GREAT tool for this pre-work.
LINKEDIN: It’s often easy for an introvert to be outgoing on social media but much more difficult to keep up that personality in face-to-face interactions. Do you have any tips on how to keep your on and offline personalities consistent with each other?
KAHNWEILER: I don’t think there has to be a disconnect here. Introverts often are about depth vs. breadth. So when they are online or writing they tend to explore and analyze topics thoughtfully. What I love about social media is that we get to explore these thoughts online and our dialogues can be so rich. When we meet in person we know about about that person and their perspectives. It jumpstarts the face-to-face conversations. Also, introverts are very comfortable in one-on-one face-to-face conversations where they can engage. So actually both ways of communicating work beautifully together.
LINKEDIN: What can extroverts learn from introverts?
KAHNWEILER: They can learn to take quiet time and pause. They can slow down, consider what they are saying and let their creativity emerge. In this world of overstimulation, extroverts are starting to appreciate these gifts that introverts bring to the world. Another quality that extroverts are learning is the power of observation. There is so much to be learned by just watching people. One extroverted woman who was traveling alone told me recently that she observed a quiet saleswoman with a group of 10 extroverted salesmen at the table next to her. The woman’s poise, easy verbal banter and confidence impressed her so that she was inspired to try on that same approach in her company.