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Transforming Introverted Employees Into Effective Leaders

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6 min read
leaders at work

In the business world, the most profound insights often come from the quietest corners of the room. It’s a truth that’s frequently overshadowed by charisma and assertiveness. And these individuals with high volumes and confidence often make their way into leadership roles.

Yet, the potential for exceptional leadership doesn’t solely belong to extroverts. 

In fact, some of the most high-performing employees, those who speak softly but carry immense competence, may be overlooked when it comes to leadership opportunities. It’s becoming increasingly evident that the qualities that make a truly effective leader are far more diverse than traditional stereotypes suggest and not isolated to extroverted leaders.

Still, a study revealed that only 2% of top executives considered themselves to be introverted.

Ultimately, organisations could be missing out on the best talent if they don’t find ways to identify future successful leaders amongst introverted employees.

In this article, we look at why leadership for introverts might be the best thing for your organisation and how to identify the introverts you need to promote.

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What Does It Mean To Be Introverted?

Introversion is a description of an individual’s personality traits. An introverted personality often prefers meaningful one-on-one interactions rather than big groups of people. Introverts gain energy from quiet contemplation rather than external stimuli. Not to be confused with shyness, introverts excel in listening and reflecting deeply. They often present with a reserved demeanour.

Introverts thrive in smaller settings, excel in independent work, and possess empathy, emotional intelligence, and attention to detail.

Why Are Introverts Commonly Overlooked For Leadership Roles?

Despite their valuable qualities, introverts often find themselves overlooked when it comes to leadership positions, as others assume they won’t make influential leaders. This oversight can be a result of several factors that aren’t necessarily reflective of their leadership potential:

  1. Introverts are happy to sit back in meetings. Introverts may not be the most vocal participants in team meetings or group discussions. Their tendency to be good listeners and contemplate rather than speak up can be misinterpreted as disengagement or lack of contribution.
  2. Introverts can be reluctant to ‘blow their own trumpet’. Introverts generally prefer to let their work speak for itself rather than self-promote. In environments that prioritise self-advocacy and visibility, their quieter accomplishments can go unnoticed.
  3. Introverts sometimes find it hard to network. Networking and establishing relationships, often considered essential for career advancement, can be outside the comfort zone of introverted individuals. This can hinder their exposure to leadership opportunities.
  4. Introverts don’t outwardly present as typical leaders. Introverts tend to lead with a more reserved style, which may not align with traditional charismatic, extroverted leadership expectations. Their understated approach may not immediately command attention or recognition.

What Makes Introverts Great Leaders?

However, introverts can be exceptional leaders. Introverts possess a range of qualities that uniquely equip them to excel in leadership roles and demonstrate excellent leadership skills. And even though these attributes might not always align with traditional, extroverted leadership stereotypes, they can bring a new dynamic to the organisation’s management.

An image showing how introverted leaders build meaningful connections with their team.

Here are a few qualities that introverts possess:

Active Listeners

Introverts are natural listeners who genuinely value others’ perspectives. This active listening builds better understanding, smoother communication, and the ability to make well-informed decisions.

Empathy

Introverts’ reflective nature enables them to tune into others’ emotions and concerns, making them naturally empathetic leaders. This emotional intelligence allows them to build strong relationships and support their team members effectively.

Focussed Approach

Introverted leaders excel in tasks requiring deep concentration and thoughtful analysis. Their ability to focus on intricate details and consider multiple angles contributes to well-crafted strategies and problem-solving.

Trust Builders

Introverts often inspire trust through their consistent and dependable nature. Their authenticity creates an environment where team members feel safe sharing ideas and concerns.

Calming Presence

Introverts’ composed and measured demeanour can have a calming influence during times of stress or uncertainty. This stability reassures their team and contributes to a positive work environment.

Inclusive Leadership

Introverted leaders often value diverse perspectives and encourage quieter team members to contribute. This creates an inclusive culture where a broader range of ideas can thrive.

Unlike extroverted leaders, introverted managers may struggle with public speaking or presenting to groups of employees.

Where Might Introverts Struggle?

Whilst introverts possess many strengths, there are some areas where they may need a helping hand to enable them to reach their full leadership potential. In fact, these challenges have resulted in 65% of senior executives viewing introversion as a barrier to leadership. Here are some of the struggles:

Communication and Relationship Building

Building relationships, managing teams and maintaining open lines of communication can be demanding for introverts, as they may need to exert extra effort to initiate conversations and maintain ongoing interactions.

Being Assertive

Introverts might hesitate to assert themselves in certain situations, particularly when their opinions differ from others. This reluctance to take a strong stance can impact their ability to lead confidently.

Confidence

Some introverted leaders might struggle with self-doubt or imposter syndrome, questioning their abilities and qualifications. This lack of confidence can hinder their capacity to make bold decisions. Presenting in front of large groups can be a source of anxiety for introverts, particularly when it requires being the centre of attention and engaging with an audience.

Delegating

Entrusting tasks to others can be challenging for introverted leaders who might be accustomed to handling things themselves. This can result in overburdening themselves and missing out on opportunities for team growth.

How to Identify an Introverted Leader

So, we know that introverts can make exceptional leaders. Yet, there’s a barrier to introverts entering leadership roles – and that’s existing leaders being able to identify their potential in the first place.

Research shows that individuals who are extroverted have a 25% higher chance of being in a high-earning job.

Here are some of the ways to spot introverts who are destined to become great future leaders:

  1. Take Time to Understand Career Aspirations

Engage in meaningful conversations with employees to understand their long-term career goals. Introverted individuals often have well-thought-out plans and may express a desire to make a lasting impact through leadership positions that align with their strengths.

  1. Observe Listening Skills

Introverted individuals excel at listening attentively. Pay attention to how they engage in conversations, whether they actively seek to understand others’ viewpoints and exhibit patience before responding.

  1. Notice Relationship Building

While introverts may not be as outwardly social, they can form deep connections with colleagues. Observe their ability to build trust, offer support, and collaborate effectively with others.

  1. Assess Adaptability

Introverted individuals who display adaptability and a willingness to learn demonstrate qualities essential for leadership. Look for instances where they’ve successfully embraced new challenges and expanded their skill set.

  1. Evaluate Problem-Solving

Introverts’ analytical nature often shines in problem-solving situations. Evaluate how they approach challenges, whether they consider various angles and propose well-thought-out solutions.

Introverted leadership style may involve building strong connections with small groups of individuals within the workplace.

Tailoring Development Programmes For Introverted Leaders

To harness the leadership potential of introverted individuals, organisations must level the playing field. Being able to customise your leadership development programmes will enable introverts to flourish, not just extroverts.

Let’s look at some ways in which organisations can tailor their approach to leadership development:

Adapting Training Methods

Recognise that introverts often thrive in quieter, more introspective learning environments and, as a result, training may need to look slightly different. Provide opportunities for self-paced learning and individual reflection that align with their learning style.

It’s vital to create an atmosphere that encourages introverted individuals to express themselves comfortably. Facilitate smaller group discussions, one-on-one coaching, and platforms for written communication to promote meaningful engagement.

In addition to that, incorporate activities that build self-confidence, such as role-playing exercises, constructive feedback, and guided self-assessment. Building self-assurance can empower introverts to step into leadership roles with greater conviction and self-confidence.

Tailored Skill Development

For introverted managers, skill development is most effective when it resonates with their challenges. Extroverted and introverted leaders will likely need different skill development. An introverted leader will need additional help to make their voice heard and tips on how to communicate with large groups of people. Tailor training sessions to focus on areas such as public speaking, assertiveness, and networking, providing them with tools to overcome challenges. 

Organisations can also allow  introverted individuals to test out their new skills in different settings, such as focussed workshops or smaller teams.

By pinpointing the precise skills that introverted leaders need extra support with, organisations can ensure that they reach their full potential. This approach not only sharpens their leadership abilities but also paves the way for a harmonious blend of leadership styles in organisations.

Flexible Progression Paths

The journey to leadership success for introverts often requires a different pace. Offering flexible routes to leadership acknowledges that leadership journeys are not one-size-fits-all but rather a unique reflection of diverse strengths. Organisations can grant autonomy to the ascent to leadership, which introverts would very likely value.

Flexibility in progression paths also aligns with introverts’ methodical and reflective nature, allowing them to adapt and grow at a pace that enhances their confidence and capabilities.

In addition to that, offering various routes empowers introverted individuals to explore avenues where their distinct skills can flourish.

 

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Amy is a knowledgeable People professional with over a decade of experience across a variety of private and public sector organisations. With a particular interest in employee engagement, Amy is an advocate for employee-centric approaches in all areas of HR which is reflected in her writing. Before a career in HR, Amy read English and Creative Writing at university and later studied for her CIPD, HR Management.

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