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An introvert's guide to leadership

August 15, 2016
Borderless Leadership

I think a lot of people assume I’m an extrovert because I’m relatively visible in my role at BodeTree and enjoy engaging with people across the board. The truth, however, is that I’m more naturally inclined towards introverted tendencies. I’m more than comfortable keeping to myself and cherish the time I dedicate to quiet introspection.

As humans, we often have a tendency to mistake loudness for confidence, and aggression for strength. As such, extroverts often have an easier time rising to the top of an organization. Once at the top, however, I’ve found that the traits and behaviors most often associated with introverts are the ones that separate successful leaders from failures.

The key for introverted leaders, then, is to take the things they’re naturally good at – deep thinking, empathy, and the ability to listen – and augment those skills with a strategic dose of extroversion. If you’re able to strike the right balance, you’ll develop a leadership style that is uniquely suited for the modern workplace.

Listen and empathize

Leaders who are self-aware and introverted are typically better equipped to listen and empathize with the people with whom they interact. This ability, of course, is an invaluable skill in the modern workplace.

Throughout my six years as CEO, I’ve found that there is almost always more to a story than meets the eye. It’s tempting and, frankly, much easier to take a given problem at face value and hammer home a simple solution. For example, a convenient response to a team member’s underperformance is to say that they simply need to “buck up and do the job.”

However, this approach can easily lead to a tense culture and high turnover. Instead, it’s better to listen and empathize with the individuals in question. Many times, issues like underperformance stem from a lack of communication, unclear goals, or scenarios outside of a person’s control. While this isn’t always the case, good leaders explore all options before jumping to such a conclusion.

Think deeply but act with purpose

We’ve all encountered individuals in the workplace who speak first and think later. These types of people can be difficult to work with because they don’t respect the nuance and details of the situation at hand and act from a position of force.

When these people find their way into leadership positions, the team they’re working with often loses respect as a result of their behavior. This, in turn, leads to a disastrous cycle of frustration, poor results, and turnover.

Introverted leaders, on the other hand, can thrive where these individuals fail. Rather than speak first and think second, introverted leaders tend to think deeply about a given scenario before taking action. In contemplating the intricacies of a situation first, introverts are better equipped to communicate with their team and drive positive results.

The key, however, is to find a way to act with purpose once all aspects of the situation have been considered. A tendency towards introversion is not an excuse to be passive. Leaders must be able to think deeply but take action when the time comes.

Remember that a light touch can move mountains

Rather than hammer people until they produce an expected outcome, introverted leaders bring an array of tools and approaches tailored to the situation at hand, enabling them to find the right path forward for everyone.

If you’ve ever read Aesop’s fables, you’ve probably encountered the parable of the sun and the wind. In it, the sun and the wind enter into a competition to see who is the strongest. They decide to see who can make a passing traveler remove his cloak.

The harder the wind blew, the tighter the man held onto his cloak in an attempt to keep warm. However, when the sun shone, the traveler got hot and simply removed the cloak. The moral of the story, of course, is that sometimes a lighter touch is more effective than forceful blustering.

The same thing applies to introverted leaders. When you’re a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. Leaders who can think deeply and act intelligently, however, can find the unique and often less abrasive ways to get the outcomes they desire.

Find your balance

Nothing in life is as cut and dried as we would like. Introverts and extroverts don’t exist in separate, well-defined buckets. Instead, they sit on a spectrum that is unique for everyone.

Introverts possess the skills and traits that are found in the best leaders. However, these cannot exist in a vacuum. To find success, introverts must learn to augment their natural abilities with the ability to drive change and move mountains.

Chris Myers is the Cofounder and CEO of BodeTree a web application designed to help financial institutions better interact with their small business clients.

Source: Forbes

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