Leadership is often linked with words like “confident,” “social,” and “charismatic”. Consequently, we might assume that all successful leaders must be extroverted personalities. Particularly with today’s fast-paced, social media-obsessed, always connected world—it may seem like there is no room for the reflective, reserved leadership style these days. But that is not the case. In fact, the rapid changes to the way we work make introverts an asset, and organizations across the board can benefit from having a variety of leadership styles in their ranks.
An introverted leader has the uncanny ability to be introspective and think deeply about challenges and topics at large. That’s why many successful leaders are introverts. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Zappos’ Tony Hsieh, business magnate Elon Musk, Marissa Mayer, Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffet are just a few leaders that display introverted leadership styles. By relishing the occasional retreat and focus to ponder deeply, they can devote their undivided attention to particular issues, topics or ideas. This ability to focus is increasingly rare and valuable in a world of never-ending digital distraction. This is also reflected deeply into why built Brief, as a tool that helps leaders manage their day in a thoughtful and impactful way.
Today’s leaders have to be agile. They need to evolve to not only meet the changing technology landscape but to also anticipate the impact it will have on tomorrow’s workforce. The introverted leader is often the most misunderstood leadership style. But changes to the way we work, communicate and measure success means that the introverted leadership style may be more appropriate than ever.
Introverts and the changing landscape of work
Gone are the days of working with the same company for over 30 years while climbing the corporate ladder. These days, the average job length is just 4.2 years. These changes in the landscape have been largely driven by technology and a hyper-globalized and connected workforce.
Let’s take a look at how the introverted leadership style has evolved in today’s changing work landscape:
1. Listening is the new talking
An innate strength introverts have is their excellent listening skills. Today’s leaders must interact with a variety of people of different backgrounds, expertise, and styles. Whether this happens in a meeting room, the company chat room, or a long email chain – the ability to patiently absorb and process different viewpoints is crucial. Introverts are often great listeners. Actively listening and assessing different opinions and giving everyone a chance to express their reasoning before making a final call. This makes introverted leaders democratic, empathetic and respectable.
As more of the conversation in the workplace move from face-to-face to digital means like email and chat, communication skills have become an even more even playing field for introverts. Those who may lack a natural knack for speaking to large crowds or interjecting in the middle of a meeting can be articulate, responsive and impactful in a written communications context. We at Brief created a productivity tool that offers a comprehensive and focused group chat functionality. Even internally, we see that some of our colleagues who can be more reserved face to face find it easier to make impactful, thoughtful and important contributions in our company group chats.
2. Always be learning
Most jobs available today didn’t exist a mere two decades ago. Marketing growth hacker, blockchain architect and Instagram influencer are just some of the new kids on the block. Try telling your grandad these job titles and see if they ring a bell. In just ten short years, if you open up a job listing site, there will be a whopping 60 percent of completely new job titles compared to what’s available today.
“In the future, we’ll be expected to quickly adapt to using new and unfamiliar tools, as we try to construct new businesses, new markets, new careers, new life plans — using ever-changing technology, without clear instructions, and with the clock ticking. All of which requires people to be not only better questioners, but better experimenters” – Warren Berger, A More Beautiful Question
This means that continuous learning is key for leaders, aspiring or current. Those who can’t take the time to learn new skills, step out of their comfort zone and apply knowledge from different domains run the risk of falling behind. Learning means taking time off to actively research, understand and digest a particular topic or trend. Legendary investor Warren Buffett famously spends 5-6 hours reading each day. Introverts can be excellent at pulling back from the hectic day-to-day and applying themselves at learning something new.
3. Time to pivot
Since many introverts are introspective and appreciate their time alone to think, they can imagine various consequences. That’s why when plans change, or the industry moves unexpectedly, introverted leaders can sometimes, actually be better prepared for it. Today’s fast pace of change rewards leadership styles that can adapt to quickly evolving business environments, and that avoid doubling-down on mistakes.
Entrepreneurs and startups, in particular, must avoid being rigid and stubbornly going down the wrong path. The lean startup methodology is all about small experiments and quick feedback loops to guide a startup’s growth and success. The ability to admit mistakes and move onto solutions is, therefore, a crucial leadership skill for the CEO of a successful startup company. Introverts often concern themselves less with what others think about them. That means that they are less afraid to fail, to admit mistakes, and to change course when the situation demands it.
4. Taking moments to pause
Introverts typically prefer to digest others thoughts and opinions, then take their time in formulating their own. They tend to write more than talk – therefore their ideas come out clearly and succinctly. This is a powerful leadership trait, as it’s easier to take action on their plans since everything is already neatly laid out.
We live in an age where a single tweet can erase billions of dollars in company value. The value of thoughtfulness has never been greater, or easier to appreciate.
Since introverts are not typically impulsive, communicating via Brief chat is a great option. They can thoughtfully compose their message or response without feeling put on the spot or interrogated. This gives them much needed breathing room to express themselves authentically. So before getting frustrated that a colleague who takes forever to instant message you back, give them a second. It’ll be worth it.
5. Crossing cultural divides
However, working across different time zones and continents presents significant language and cultural barriers. This is another opportunity for introverts to shine. Since they are often more reserved and thoughtful in the way they express themselves, they can help minimize misunderstandings or difficulties in working with people of different cultural backgrounds. They are also many times better at taking the time to listen to different (cultural) points of view, which leaves different team members feeling heard. In general, the ability to work with a diverse set of personalities is more important than ever to both professional and personal effectiveness.
Harnessing the power of the group
A powerful team is one who capitalizes on the strengths that both introverts and extroverts bring to the table. Examples of stellar introvert-extrovert pairs include Sheryl Sandberg and Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, and Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt. A diversity of leadership styles can be nothing short of a competitive advantage.
“Well, I think introverts can do quite well. Go off for a few days and think about a tough problem, read everything you can, push yourself very hard to think out on the edge of that area. Then, if you come up with something, if you want to hire people, get them excited, build a company around that idea, you better learn what extroverts do, you better hire some extroverts (like Steve Ballmer I would claim as an extrovert) and tap into both sets of skills in order to have a company that thrives both in deep thinking and building teams and going out into the world to sell those ideas.”- Bill Gates
Here’s the thing though – no is one is 100 percent introvert or extrovert. Most of us are on the scale but may lean more strongly to one side or the other. The critical thing to remember is to harness your unique strengths. Know your weaknesses and appreciate the strengths of those in your team. Find common ground and adopt the best communication style for your team members. Team communications solutions like Brief can help both introverted or extroverted leaders and bring teams together, while also helping each team member to manage their day effectively and deliberately. Being open with your team, clients or managers is the best way to ensure you remain productive and focused.
Watch Susan Cain, the author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking’s TED talk below:
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