When researchers first began studying and trying to understand leadership, they observed that many leaders shared similar traits. They tended to be (among other things), intelligent, taller than average, and great communicators. These observations led to something called “trait theory”, the idea that leadership comes from aspects of your personality that you were born with. If you believe in trait theory, people who tend to be more introverted don’t have what it takes to be leaders. Yet some of the most successful leaders in history have identified as introverts. How is that possible? First of all, trait theory has been largely set aside in favor of the idea that leadership is something far more complex than a simple matter of personal attributes, and that, in fact, that leadership ability is something everyone is capable of developing. But beyond that, what we have observed recently is that everyone leads differently, and that the most authentic type of leadership comes from knowing yourself, recognizing your strengths, and being able to recognize the strengths of others.
Today’s workforce is the most diverse it has been in history, and research has shown that leaders who can foster an inclusive environment, and leverage the strengths of their team members are ultimately more successful. Being an introvert is not a barrier to being a leader, in fact it can be an asset if you can leverage that self-awareness to help you build our leadership skills.Here are some keys to being an effective leader if you identify as an introvert:
- Different is Good – As a leader, it’s critical for you to recognize and model that differences in communication styles are assets for the team. If we all think and work the same way, innovation is much harder, and we won’t see the flaws in our plans.
- Prepare for Conflict – Conflict is part of teamwork. Healthy conflict, including disagreeing about how to approach an issue, is an important part of improving the end product. Unhealthy conflict, including arguing over trivial things, or having hidden agendas is a sign that your team isn’t collaborating well. Understanding how teams evolve and learn to work together is an important element of being successful as a leader.
- Model Open-Mindedness – As an introvert, you might feel uncomfortable presenting to the team, or speaking up. Let your team know that sometimes you have to do some things that are a little outside of your comfort zone, and ask them to do the same.
- Partner Up – Introverts and extroverts work better together. Encourage your team to find their opposite, and work together on projects to leverage the best of both ends of the communication spectrum.
- Be Yourself – Many times, introverts feel like that have to put on an act of being more extroverted, either to get the leadership role or once they are in it. The most important thing you can do as a leader is be yourself, and develop an authentic style that is based in your own strengths, and your ability to develop the strengths of your team members.
Leadership is a skill, and is made up of both your own natural strengths, the mindset that puts the development of your team members first, and skills such as project management, communication, and delegation. Everyone’s personal leadership style is different, and learning to be a leader as an introvert is all about understanding how to leverage your own strengths, and the strengths of your team, to get things done.