The Alternative Leader Series: The Introverted Leader

When we think of a business leader, we often picture the image of a brash, loud, aggressive, sales-oriented individual as this is often the type depicted in the media but in my experience, leaders come in all shapes and sizes and very rarely conform to this stereotype.

This can mean that real life leaders feel as though they are not actually performing as they should be and in turn, they might adopt characteristics that are inauthentic and do not align with their natural preferences.

A lot of the work that I do is to unravel these self-limiting beliefs of not being a genuine leader and to help people to identify their authentic leadership style.

In this series, we’ll explore alternative leaders who don’t conform to the stereotype and how these types of leaders can become comfortable with who they are and how they lead.

The Introverted Leader

Firstly, let’s clarify what we mean by an Introverted leader. Introversion is the preference to recharge your social batteries alone or in small groups rather than the Extrovert preference to do this by interacting with others.

A common misconception is that Introverts are shy and retiring individuals, and whilst this might be true for some, many Introverts are outgoing and enjoy social interactions.

In 2020, a MBTI global sample indicated that 56.8% of people around the world prefer Introversion to Extroversion so how does this impact a person’s leadership style?

Introverted Leadership Traits

Introverts will generally have a stronger preference for reflection than their Extroverted counterparts and this might mean that they prefer to internally process information before sharing their views. This can be beneficial in situations that require decisive decision-making as an Introverted leader will often have considered a problem from all angles prior to discussion.

An Introverted person is likely to focus on the promotion of their team’s ideas than their own as Introverts often find that their social battery drains quicker from being in the spotlight. This can make them great cheerleaders as they are comfortable letting others shine.

Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, states “there are plenty of reasons to embrace Introverts as leaders…They are thought to be highly creative, great at observing social behaviours and effective at leading others”.

Given, these positive leadership traits, it’s interesting that the study conducted by Myers-Briggs found that 9 out of 10 business leaders reported feeling that they were expected to act in an Extroverted way at work.

It is often this feeling that an Introvert must monitor their behaviour and act against their preference that can lead to feelings of burnout, stress and a hesitation to aim for Senior Leadership roles.

How can an Introverted Leader ensure that they make an impact at work?

1. Understand your preferences and the impact of working against them. It can be tempting to fool yourself into thinking that just because you can temporarily keep up with your more Extroverted colleagues that you should adopt these behaviours in the longer term. The longer that you act in a way that is inauthentic to you, the greater that the impact is likely to be on you, both mentally and physically. So, instead of mimicking the behaviours of the other leaders that you see around you, it is much better to identify your own preferences and the strengths that you offer and lean into these. This will improve your impact at work and will prevent you from becoming stressed and burnout trying to be something that you are not.

2. Create a recovery routine. As an Introvert, you are likely to find that your social battery will drain quicker than your Extroverted colleagues. However, as an Introverted leader you are unlikely to be able to avoid activities such as networking, presenting and facilitating as these often form part of a leadership role. Instead of accepting the impact of activities that drain your social battery, it may be valuable to identify which activities drain you the most and then developing a recovery routine to help you to recharge sooner. It may be that when you do something that requires more of your social energy you make sure that you block out quiet recovery time afterwards to build your social battery backup. You might avoid certain food and drink such as caffeine or sugar on highly social days as these things can mean that you run out of charge quicker. On the flipside, you might know that a quick lunchtime walk with your headphones in can help your battery to recharge so you could book this into your diary in advance.

3. Recognise the effort and plan a reward. Stretching yourself outside of your preferences temporarily takes additional effort and this should be recognised. When you know that you’ve done something that will have an impact on you then plan a small reward to make the effort worthwhile. This could be as small as a bar of choc, a guilt-free online shopping session or booking something fun. The size of the reward is less important than the ritual of celebrating your achievements and the association of that extra effort with something positive. 

If you’re an Introverted leader who wants help to manage the impact of their role then reach out for an informal chat.