The difference between an uncomfortable silence, a pregnant pause, and the ability to sit comfortable in silence with someone - if you secretly like the inherent quiet in all three, you might be an introvert.
Since releasing her bestselling book Quiet, Susan Cain might be the world's most ironic leader, an introvert who started a movement around people who tend to recharge when they are alone. More than just acknowledging the strengths quieter people bring to the table, she's amplified how they show up in the world of work as leaders.
Cain isn't the only one trying to make a dent in the lopsided power division in business between the high-powered, extroverted exec who rises quickly to the top of a company and the quieter, hard-working person who can get overlooked even though their people love them.
Tara Gentile, a business strategist and founder of CoCommercial, centers her flagship program the "Quiet Power Strategy" on this idea - that by focusing on your unique strengths, you can create a business and environment that allows you to thrive on your terms. With the majority of her clientele being women who identify as introverts, the message has resonated.
But the question stands - in a world where whoever is loudest often wins (see The White House), how can an introvert develop leadership skills?
The short answer? By refusing to play a losing game.
Introverts have a unique way of showing up in the world, and according to The Washington Post, they tend to be better CEOs.
What does that mean for the aspiring introverted leader? Let's go into some of the ways introverts can develop leadership skills.
Being loud doesn't always mean you get heard.
The Harvard Business Review recommends taking pauses while speaking to have the most impact when you're speaking - on or off stage. Pausing for effect makes you sound more authoritative, while also allowing you to only speak what most needs said.
The most underrated skill introverts possess is without a doubt listening. This isn't to say that an extrovert can't be a good listener, but an introvert by definition almost always speaks less. This gives them a remarkable edge, because they inherently allow more space for the other person to describe their situation, what they are going through, and how you can help.
What do great listeners do? HBR says they follow these three rules:
- Don't talking when others are speaking.
- Let others know you’re listening with facial expressions and verbal sounds.
- Repeat what others have said using their words.
When you do speak, make it count. Organizations like Toastmasters are there to help you develop your skills in a supportive environment.
Executive leadership coach Laura Frances Gates works with corporate groups on this skill and says, "I try not to let terms like "introverted or extroverted" define people as their preferences - they're not written in stone. Then I remind participants that power does not mean being the biggest talker in the room, sometimes its the quiet observer who asks a powerful question."
If you're at your best when you've had enough down time, then make sure you're giving yourself the gift of being able to adequately recover after stressful social interactions. There's no good reason to try and play the game like an extrovert if that's not what gets you going.
At work and can't get away? Get back into your zone with a few minutes of Headspace.
Avoid excessive energy drains.
You already know too much time with people is going to take down your energy reserves - so make sure you're scheduling in time to recharge. A few minutes with noise-cancelling headphones can work wonders for an introvert who can't completely escape a high intensity environment.
Additionally, if you can cut a meeting, do it. Most meetings are a waste of time anyway, so save yourself the trouble.
Hot Tip: Have an assistant field your calls and emails as much as possible. This will save your energy for the interactions that most matter.
Level the playing field.
HBR points to best practices for getting the most out of introverts in an organization at companies like Amazon, where every meeting starts with silence while a memo is read aloud.
Now, that may be excessive, but the premise of the idea makes sense. By making sure everyone is starting in the same place with the same end goal in mind, you make it easier for everyone to stay on task. Introverts and extroverts alike benefit from this practice because extroverts tend to think aloud; by enforcing the initial silence, introverts don't lose out to extroverts getting ahead of themselves.
When push comes to shove, we're all human, and extroverts and introverts have more in common than not. Both are necessary to growing a great company, but don't think that being an introvert is going to hold you back.
What's your secret to developing leadership skills as an introvert? Have you taken a course or a course of action that has helped you improve?