The Quiet Strength of an Introverted Leader

My mum told me that as a child I usually ran ‘behind her skirts’ when I wasn’t comfortable with a situation.  My ‘shyness’ was seen as a negative so she was surprised when, as a young adult, I was working with the Australian government in the Soviet Union, then working in community leadership roles.  How do we introverts get to work in roles that ‘shouldn’t suit them’?  Weren’t those roles better suited to extroverts, who can hold a conversation or work a room without developing a sweat or retreating to a corner

There’s been quite a bit in the news lately about introverts quietly standing up for themselves and using their quiet nature to advantage, thanks to Prof. Gary Martin’s November article in the Age:  https://www.theage.com.au/business/workplace/at-work-introverts-are-quietly-standing-up-for-themselves-20191115-p53b1g.html

The Australian Institute of Management (AIM) describes extroverts as: confident, dominant in leadership, great networkers, assertive, enthusiastic and positive.  AIM describes introverts as: cautious, empathetic, good listeners, calm, honest.

There’s no doubt that personalities play a big role in who gets promoted, praised and paid more.  I remember (a decade or more ago) applying for a promotion and my mentor being horrified when I wrote I was a ‘quiet achiever’. ‘My God’ she said, ‘you can’t say that in this organisation’.  ‘It’s full of type A personalities and you will get chewed up and spat out!’  Agh! So I revised my application, got an interview and, against my better judgement, ‘switched ON’ to get the promotion.  I hadn’t done that before and it exhausted me.  So far out of my comfort zone…. but I saw many less effective (extroverted) colleagues get promoted above me so decided to give it a go.  I got the promotion.

This brings me back to Prof. Martin’s comment that we introverts ‘bristle at the need to mimic the more boisterous characteristics of their extroverted counterparts if they want to be promoted’. Why should we have to mimic others?

Hopefully, today, management is seeing the value of ‘hidden leaders’. Regional Leadership’s leadership programs provide opportunities for introverted leaders to ‘shine’ we recognise they have their own unique strengths, which when leveraged positively, can be great leadership assets.  We all develop our own survival tips in leadership roles but some of my favourites (learnt over many years) for introvert leaders are:

  • Focus on others, rather than yourself until you gain enough confidence. Highlight your team’s strengths – let them take the spotlight.
  • Be prepared – have an agenda so you don’t have to think on your feet.
  • Hire a great team around you – set expectations confidently, have lots of one-one chats to align values and develop connections, and quietly but confidently bring people on board.
  • Let your integrity and empathy shine – that’s what we’re good at.
  • Be kind to yourself – if you’re not comfortable working the room, then focus on those you need to talk to, and which topics. It may help to bring a friend/colleague with you so you don’t find yourself gravitating to that corner alone. Once you’ve achieved what you set out to do, feel free to leave. (I wish I had this advice when I was a young adult trying to make conversation with Russian generals at official receptions in Moscow!)

Rita Holt – Regional Leadership Volunteer

Kat Baddeley

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