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Being an Introverted Leader in the Workplace

The Introverted Personality

A definition from Vocabulary.com:
“Introvert comes from Latin intro-, “inward,” and vertere, “turning.” It describes a person who tends to turn inward mentally. Introverts sometimes avoid large groups of people, feeling more energized by time alone. The opposite of an introvert is an extrovert, who finds energy in interactions with others.”

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is one widely-used test that evaluates personality type. There are 16 4-letter types, determined by results favoring either extraversion (E) or introversion (I), sensing (S) or intuition (N), thinking (T) or feeling (F), judging (J) or perceiving (P). An example of one introverted type is INTJ. http://www.humanmetrics.com/hr/you/personalitytype.aspx

The Five-Factor Model (Big Five) is another popular evaluation tool. This test rates openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. Results are given as 1% to 100% in each category. For instance, a strongly introverted individual would score below 20% in extraversion. http://www.outofservice.com/bigfive/

An understanding of personality traits can be valuable in comprehending the words and actions of others, while furthering your own professional growth.

As an introvert who has increasingly sought leadership roles as my knowledge and job experience has developed, I’ve researched advice and reviewed my own struggles in order to find a path to leadership that can work for those who are not innately assertive.

Six Strengths Introverts Have That Can Make Them Great Leaders

1. The rational introvert’s commitment to logic and systematic approach to problem-solving is held in high regard in a variety of industries.

2. We frequently take time to reflect, and so gain a reputation for being thoughtful. The ability to see to the core of issues can give an impression of unusual insight.

3. Being methodical and precise with thorough attention to detail comes naturally to many introverts.

4. Our serious demeanor and calm composure tend to be perceived as appropriately businesslike.

5. The natural caution of contemplative personality types can prevent rash business decisions.

6. The introverted are often good listeners.

Challenges an Introvert Faces in Work Environments

Being Heard

At times it has seemed to me, as a reserved person, that the loud, bossy people always end up dominating a conversation.

Introversion can get confused with shyness or fearfulness. For instance, if you take time to carefully formulate a reply to a question instead of immediately starting to talk, some may intrepret this as being afraid to speak.

The struggle to be heard, respected, and seen as confident can be quite a trial, but figuring out solutions is important for success in the workplace.

So how can the thoughtful, quieter individuals avoid getting drowned out by forceful voices in meetings, or in any discussion with more than two participants?

Those instigating a meeting can establish guidelines that emphasise professionalism, respect, and the opportunity for all to have a chance to contribute. Meeting Guidelines PDF

Statements such as “Input from all team members is valuable at this stage” or “Let’s get the opinions of those we haven’t heard from yet” can get both large gatherings and smaller conversations to be more inclusive.

Introverts should endeavor to share thoughts in discussions, even if ideas are not yet fully formed. You can pre-prepare a mental list of topics you want to see addressed, and think about how you might phrase any questions, answers or statements. Also, remember to sometimes verbally express your agreement or support for what others are saying instead of simply nodding.

Demonstrating Your Value

Promotions often go to those who bring positive attention to themselves and their record. But some reserved individuals take a high level of achievement for granted, not worth mentioning since it’s natural to them. Others undervalue their own contribution and hesitate to bring up the subject of their performance.

Be aware of your strengths: think about why you were hired. List the skills and knowledge you’ve picked up from both work and life experience. Realize your successes.

How do you then demonstrate your value without seeming boastful?

Occasionally, I have asked those above me in the chain of command to share their own achievements, studies they’ve pursued, or solutions they’ve found to common issues in our industry. This creates a natural opening for me to relate stories of my similar successes, or to express how I understand their problem-solving approach since it resembles my own. Steering conversations does not come naturally to me or most introverts, but an effort in this direction now and then can increase how favorably we are perceived by those who delegate assignments or make hiring decisions.

Quiet people are sometimes seen as being “out-of-touch.” How does one counteract this bias?

One way is to take opportunities co-workers use for small talk to contribute: instead of discussing what you’ve eaten for lunch with an associate at the water cooler, mention articles or podcasts you’ve found that you think they’d appreciate, or new productivity apps.

In addition to sharing resources, you can initialize change: Don’t hesitate to be a “self-starter.” Be the one to get projects rolling, track each stage, and insure that communication with the team is maintained throughout. Introverts may be wary of taking charge, but try to have a realistic assessment of the risks of doing so. The reward is frequently worth the initial difficult steps outside your comfort zone.

Awareness of what’s going on around you can take effort for those who are really most comfortable in the “cave” of their office, cubicle, or home workstation. But paying attention to what others are working on, current department or company-wide goals, and innovations in your field can give you confidence and provide the impression that you’re connected.

Offering to teach skills is another excellent way to show your willingness to be involved. Introverts can be great teachers when they remember to practice patience and maintain awareness of different learning and communication styles.


Professional writing competency is important for composing everything from a businesslike e-mail, to product information online, to a press release. Even for introverts who already feel comfortable at conveying data or connecting with others through writing, it’s beneficial to fine-tune this ability throughout your career. Developing a large vocabulary (especially in the terminology of your profession) gives you greater options in choosing the best way to word statements or respond to colleagues.

Proficiency can then translate to improved verbal skills, which are difficult to acquire for any of us who tend to avoid conversations on the phone or speaking face-to-face for any great length.

Get more comfortable with speaking by reading out loud what you write at times, striving for a natural, confident cadence. Have you been told that you are soft-spoken, or that you mumble? Pay attention to the volume level of other voices in conversations or meetings, and adjust your own accordingly. Recording your voice and playing it back can help you practice clear enunciation.

Use your powers of observation to make a study of non-verbal communication: posture, body language, and facial expressions. This helps us gain insight regarding how others are feeling and what information we all might be conveying in ways other than words. Do you get the impression people find you to be stern? Practice pleasant, thoughtful, attentive expressions in the mirror. It’s also important to avoid figeting if you wish to convey competence and to be someone others are comfortable to have taking the lead.

These self-improvements and attempts at relating to others may take some willpower to instigate and persistently pursue. What I’ve found most helpful are written reminders of my goals and values, and a collection of inspiring quotes and articles from those I admire. In addition, seeking out the support of friends and family (especially other introverts!) and like-minded mentors can provide encouragement when confidence wavers.

Go Forth and Lead

We may think of leaders as those who are in management, but any of us who stands as an example or provides direction can motivate others and be seen as an authority. Our contributions may not be obviously reflected in our job titles, but we all have the chance to be role models while realizing our own successes in many endeavors.

“Leadership is an action, not a position.” – Donald McGannon

“Keep your fears to yourself, but share your courage with others.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

“Earn your leadership every day.” – Michael Jordan