Leaders are commonly thought of as charismatic, gregarious, and able to round up a group of people to rally for a common cause. How does an introvert get recognized and be seen fit to lead when there are so many extroverts who are more public about their abilities?
When I think about leadership, I think about loud people who give inspiring speeches.
Like Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street.
This is a popular stereotype, but you don’t have to be like this to be an effective leader.
In fact, as an introvert, I don’t like to be preached to or told “how much potential I can unlock with the right attitude.”
As soon as my rah rah detector goes off, I get turned off.
Here’s the thing, though.
Leadership is important, whether you like to hear it or not.
You are constantly being judged by your ability to lead whether you’re an executive or a minion. Whether you’re an introvert or extrovert.
People view your ability to lead as a measure of your effectiveness as a person. It impacts your life in a bigger way than you may realize.
This is why I have to answer this question.
Leadership is not just about recognition. It’s about the health of your own personal brand.
I used to proudly say, “I don’t care what people think.”
This is still true to some degree. But over the last few years, I’ve come to realize that not giving a shit about how you are perceived can actually hurt you.
The way people perceive you makes a difference in the way they treat you and the types of opportunities you get in life.
It’s no coincidence that the majority of corporate leaders are perceived to be extroverts.
From the article The Hidden Advantages of Quiet Bosses  by by Adam Grant, Francesca Gino, and David A. Hofmann:
Whereas just 50% of the general population is extroverted, 96% of managers and executives display extroverted personalities. And the higher you go in a corporate hierarchy, the more likely you are to find highly extroverted individuals.” Further, a 2006 survey revealed that “65% of senior corporate executives viewed introversion as a barrier to leadership”.
Even if you don’t care about becoming an executive, you should care about your personal brand because that follows you everywhere you go.
Even if you don’t manage or direct other people, wouldn’t you rather your family, friends, and the general public view you as an effective person than a schmuck?
But I’m not going to tell you to go unlock your potential or anything cheesy like that. Instead, I’m just going to give you three practical strategies you, as an introvert, can begin to implement today to become a better leader.
And don’t worry. You don’t have to be loud. The Quiet Bosses article also explains that introverts are more likely to serve as better leaders for proactive employees.
In fact, you’ll soon see that introversion doesn’t have to be a barrier to leadership at all.
Here are three ways you can be an introvert AND an effective leader:
1. Lead by example.
Introverts can lead by example because it’s natural for them to focus inwards rather than outwards.
If you want your employees to work harder for you, work harder for them.
Don’t expect anything in return. They’ll sense it and want to reciprocate. It’s human nature. And then, it’s even more effective because the intent comes from within.
I’ve always wanted to work harder for bosses who I knew had my back and would go to bat for me.
If you want your family to take on healthier habits, don’t try to force them or tell them what to do. Just practice the healthy habits yourself and they’ll see that you’re looking great and feeling great because of your habits and want to do the same.
There’s a reason people say that you’re the average of the five individuals you hang out with the most.
2. Become a subject matter expert.
If you become a subject matter expert, people will look to you for leadership whether you like it or not.
You can have the most vocal person in the room, but if he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, people will see through that quickly and seek answers elsewhere.
It’s not enough to be a good motivator if you have no substance.
Instead of trying to compensate for your weaknesses, put that energy into improving your strengths.
This way, instead of being okay at some things and good at others, you become truly great at certain things. Better than anyone else around.
That’s when people will go to you for guidance.
Over the last several years, I’ve become a subject matter expert at Microsoft Excel.
Seems like a stereotypical introverted thing to be good at, right?
Well, as a result of this, people come to me for help all the time. People from other departments that I don’t even work with somehow heard that I was great at Excel, so they ask me questions. Even people I’ve never heard of come to me asking for guidance.
Well, guess what? When people come to you for guidance that makes you a leader.
No shouting or motivational speeches required. Just become bad ass at your craft and word gets around. I became a leader in Excel by becoming a subject matter expert.
3. Engage one-on-one.
This is a loophole I’ve discovered for introverts.
In the past, I received constructive feedback that the perception of my leadership skills at work was lacking because I don’t speak up voluntarily in big groups and meetings.
This is true, but it’s not because I don’t have anything constructive to say. It’s just a result of my introverted nature.
One way I’ve decided to improve this perception is to identify select people from these large groups and engage with them one-on-one.
This strategy works well for me because I don’t like speaking in front of a crowd, but I do like to have meaningful one-on-one conversations.
There are a couple of keys to pulling this off successfully:
Step One: Find people you actually like to engage with.
An example for me is one of my company’s C-level officers who I worked under for a couple of years and built up a good relationship with.
She is someone I actually like and respect as a person, so it’s easy for me to want to engage more without feeling like I’m brown-nosing.
At the time, she met with everyone in her organization once or twice a year and I asked her if we could have quarterly meetings. She happily agreed, so now I get to meet with a high-level executive more frequently which (as long as I follow step two) improves the perception she has of me.
Step Two: Add value.
Important people are busy and don’t want to waste their time.
The last thing I want is to be seen as a time leech. So whenever I meet with important people, I try to bring them insights or new information that can help them in some way.
This part is critical.
When you’re meeting with important people, don’t focus on how they can help you. Find ways to help them.
Do this willingly for free and don’t expect anything in return except your own personal satisfaction that you were able to add value to someone more important than you.
Introverts might struggle with this at first because we’re often too focused on ourselves. But once you start practicing it, you’ll immediately see the benefits.
The “value” doesn’t have to be work-related. In fact, if they are more experienced than you, it’s less likely you’ll be able to tell them something they don’t already know. But you can add value in other areas where you are more experienced than they are.
In my last meeting with the exec I mentioned, I told her about a service I thought she would benefit from that had nothing to do with work. Even if she doesn’t use it, at least I’m adding value by providing a potential solution and not wasting her time.
You can apply this to other areas outside of your job too.
I’ve used this strategy to connect with other bloggers and it works well. I recently helped a fellow health and fitness blogger on an Excel project for his fat loss course.
If you can add value to other people, especially people who are more important than you, then it will eventually come back around.
To recap, in order to be an effective introverted leader:
- You don’t need to preach at people if you lead by example
- Become a subject matter expert and people will naturally look to you for leadership
- If you don’t like to be vocal in large groups, engage one-on-one with leaders you like and admire and find ways to add value for them
First published on Quora.