Research Paper By Julie Kong
(Introverted Woman Leader Coach, SINGAPORE)
I’ve recently been inspired by my peer coach on this paradoxical concept of being a leader and introverted. How could a person with limited social interaction inspire and gather people to reach a common goal? How could a group of persons rely on someone that is not willing to seek attention and direct exposure?
If we look at our society and more specifically in the Anglo-Saxon culture, we are surrounded by successful people who are extroverts. Our education is also driven by this notion of popularity within a community. Success is often associated with our capability to shine and speak up in front of a wide public. The most common Leaders classes focus on how to be impactful, how to share a clear and persuasive message, how to stand up as an example. There is a trend in our society to force introverts to change and to associate the inclusion concept with power.
Being introverted, I am facing this challenge by driving initiatives without being seen as dominant. However, my readings for this research have proven that I chose the right angle and that success is possible without changing my values and not becoming socially alienated.
Through this paper, I hope to highlight some perspectives Introverts can leverage to become good leaders. Also based on my experience through French and Asian corporate culture, I wish to emphasize this paradox with case studies.
Influenced by an extroverted society
Our modern society is qualified as fast, loud and aggressive putting then extroverts in a better position to be recognized and dominant. In a survey done in 2006, 65% of senior corporate executives have considered introversion as a barrier to leadership. As a consequence, introverts must face a strong cultural bias and prejudices to impose themselves as leaders. While extroverts are seen as more agile and more effective for making decisions, the majority of the workforce is composed of introverts (40-60% of the workforce). Do we need to differentiate from the core workforce to become successful? Does our society promote egocentric and self-confident members? We live at a fast pace emphasized by the growing use of technology and by short-term goals rather than long-term achievements. In such circumstances, the facility to make decisions are more valuable than making good decisions and long-term outcomes. The other mistake of our society is to associate people skills and charisma which leads to disappointment when it comes to real performance. Introversion could balance this wrong notion of speed and popularity with success and raise new sustainable perspectives.
A new leadership style based on empathy and quiet strength
Where Introverts are described as shy, uncomfortable in society, they actually develop other skills that could benefit leadership behavior. Introversion is an inward orientation to life by gaining energy by reflecting and expending energy when interacting. From this angle of introversion definition, we can identify the skill set that would make Introvert a good leader:
Great Listeners with empathy
Introverts give more focus to other members and to silence time. They ask for opinions instead of stating their own view first. Ideas come through a sharing of ideas and perspectives. Leveraging on observation time and brainstorming enables us to analyze the situation through different angles. This would lead to more favorable decisions that will be accepted and recognized by a wider group. The faculty to observe helps to understand each group’s motivation and the way they are interacting and thinking. By knowing better its team, community, and enemies, a leader can make decisions with strong insights and support.
Show prudence and humility
Introverts would favor silence and thoughts before speaking. When problems come, they will instead analyze and plan it before reacting. Most introverts would prefer to work and study on their own first before sharing some views with a group. They do not pay attention to be the best seen in the group but do focus more on tangible results and plans. Having this time to step back and not overreacting to a new situation help to obtain a better picture of all risks taken. Where extroverts would take the opportunity to shine and accept the challenge at all risk by looking at only 1 or 2 dimensions, introverts would share a more balanced view with a solution, action, and risk mitigation plan. Humility is then seen as the capability to identify mistakes, obstacles, and limitations. Being open to new ideas and contradictory information would avoid any surprises in business and life outcomes.
Strong thinker and analytical
Introverts are not reluctant to work on their own and would prefer it to become more productive. Very detailed and analytical by collecting information from various sources, they can combine them, look into a detailed level, and transform the information into new ideas. As a consequence, they excel in managing crises and uncertainty. Their capacity for concentration and curiosity gives them a high potential for innovation and solving problems.
Acceptance, Preparation, and Act with Purpose
Introversion is not a barrier for leadership and is not either a social gap or a disease. Where introversion was not considered 20 years ago, it is now becoming a trend and more recognized in modern society and in companies whose structure keeps changing with a perpetual search of innovation and people care. The introverted leaders are appreciated for their inspiration and creation of collaborative workplaces. They help to lift staff engagement and build long-term values for the company and the team.
However, the introverts face challenges to become successful leaders by first ignoring/rejecting the set of skills this personality could bring to them and then forcing themselves to change into a different personality.
Acceptance of being introverted and the challenges coming with this personality
The first step is to recognize the introversion and importance it takes in our actions. Avoiding the negative perception of introversion and stop linking it with a leadership default. The MBTI personality test gives a first good and factual approach.
This awareness points to the good values and skills Introverts can leverage. It also helps to identify the challenges Introverts must address which are around the exhaustion of being in a group, the space invader, and the time pressure. Introverted leaders need more time to generate ideas and decisions. They feel pressured by other louder stakeholders and miss space within a group. It doesn’t mean they are not comfortable in all types of groups but they are more distracted by strong and aggressive personalities. This lack of space and positioning could be seen as a lack of interests and opinions.
How can Introverts increase their space and their opportunity for valuable decisions? How can they take advantage of extroverts?
Identification of the key steps of the preparation plan
In the book The Introverted Leader, Jennifer Kahnweiler presents different situations where Introverts face challenges in their career. She also suggests a coaching model based on the 4Ps process which is Prepare, Presence, Push, Practice. From this inspiration, I come up with a list of different situations where Introverts can feel uncomfortable and a list of ideas on how Introverts could manage the communication and confrontation with people in favor of its ideas and decisions.
Find ways to grow its own space and be ready for the critical and major decisions
Introversion might require more preparation and adjustments than for extroverts but in reality, all the considered steps should be the normal and standard way to come up with the right decisions. In that sense, introverts by regularly practicing this approach would over-perform extroverts that are not used to this long reflection and preparation. Gaining experience and adapting its network and time would increase the successful impact of each decision taken by Introverts.
Tendency to Introverted culture: Asian and French case study
Having an Asian and French background, I have been confronted with different management styles that have been challenged by the most common Anglo-Saxon way. Here is a list of situations where Introversion occurs and could be badly interpreted or misused:
- Introversion grows with rules when the scope and responsibilities are defined and limited when situations are translated to expected behavior or standardized conversation (seniority rules, management hierarchy, social class...)
- Quiet is a right and gives a higher chance of comfort and safety. Collective view prevails on individual opinions to avoid conflicts and keep a sort of social harmony
- Privacy (“none of your business”) is emphasized and defined with the notions of exclusion/inclusion in a group or community (Board, committees, business department, team, social group...)
- Decisions are taken before large audience meetings (coffee corner, 1-1 meetings, lobbying...)
- Introversion leading to passivity and no change
- Management style with a technical background (Demonstrative presentation vs Sales pitch, managers from top-ranking engineering schools...)
- Rejection of loud people as they are too different from the rest of the group (too individualist, reactive, and less thoughtful)
There are strong influences in these cultures to favor Introversion to emphasize stability and collective benefits. The Introverts feel much more at peace and can focus on their personal growth and interests if it doesn’t interfere with the collective topics.
However, this tendency could lead to a negative leadership effect if it creates a fear of sharing divergent opinions. The strong influence of the top-down view should be mitigated with consistent bottom-up exercises and feedback. Innovation must not be disregarded and should be adapted to reach this group of Introverts (survey, anonymized feedback, small brainstorming groups, 1-1 catch up…). Leadership is driven by agility and acceptance of all types of mindsets including Introversion.
How coaching could help Introverts
Coaching helps to build awareness for Introverts and to make them more confident in their leadership role. Have trust in its own style rather than imitating others and feel peaceful internally. There is a new era to come with leaders bringing more sustainable goals to embrace a collaborative and creative mindset within an organization and Introverts can take part in it and become the new leaders of Tomorrow. The coach could help to provide more clarity on the client’s strengths and areas of focus and for the client to find its own space and confidence to achieve its goals. Introverts have strong active listening skills and coaches could help them to turn into impactful and meaningful actions for the community.
Source / Inspiration
The Introverted Leader by Jennifer Kahnweiler
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain
The Introvert Advantage by Marti Olsen Laney
Introvert Power by Laura A Helgoe