The Introvert’s Journey
It may surprise many who know me now, but I consider myself an introvert. To be more precise, I identify as an extroverted introvert.
Growing up, I was always the quiet one, even in my own family. I was more comfortable in the tranquillity of my own thoughts than in the noise of group activities. I avoided making small talk and it always took me a considerable amount of time to get comfortable in social settings.
This introverted characteristic followed me through school and into my professional life. When I first enrolled at the Telfer School of Management (University of Ottawa), I was a archetypal introvert. As an accounting and finance student in a business school I often felt out of place amidst the energized chatter of my extroverted peers. It took me a while to acclimate to social situations and establish meaningful friendships.
Nevertheless, I realized that If I really wanted to succeed in school and subsequently in my career, I needed to own and embrace my introversion and find ways to engage with people in a way that I was comfortable with. I came to recognize that my quiet demeanor didn’t make me less capable or less passionate; in fact, it enhanced my ability to listen, analyze, and implement change in a unique and influential way.
To immerse myself in the extroverted world of campus life, I ventured into various activities. I joined student clubs, attended networking events, participated in business case competitions, and eventually became part of the student council at the Telfer School of Management where I assumed the roles VP Finance and subsequently, President.
It was within the student council that my leadership skills blossomed, marking the beginning of my transformation from a deep introvert to an extroverted introvert.
The Transition to the Professional World
The transition from university to a full-time career became a turning point in my life. I found myself constantly interacting with clients, teams, and stakeholders. I had to step up, become more assertive, and take charge. However, I remained true to my introverted nature. Instead of trying to emulate my extroverted counterparts, I leaned into my unique strengths, earning respect from my colleagues and clients alike.
Today, as an experienced finance professional, career coach, and proud introvert, I have dedicated time to guiding others to navigate the competitive and often extroverted world of business.
Now that you are acquainted with my journey as an introvert, let us delve into how this seemingly “quiet” personality trait can be transformed into a leadership superpower.
Debunking The Introvert Myth
Introversion is often misunderstood in the context of leadership. A popular misconception is that introverts are socially anxious or excessively shy. That being said, I was a shy kid in primary school and part way through secondary school.
However, Susan Cain, in her book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, clarifies that introversion is not about fear of social situations but rather about how one responds to stimulation.
As introverts, we prefer quieter, less overwhelming environments, but this doesn’t mean we avoid social interaction altogether. Introverts often possess attributes such as thoughtful introspection, focus, and keen observation—key ingredients that combine to create a captivating leadership concoction.
I remember my early days as a management consultant when my introverted tendencies seemed to be in stark contrast with the extraverted nature of the role. Yet, over time, I realized that my natural propensity to observe and reflect before speaking allowed me to integrate different perspectives and formulate comprehensive strategies.
The Introverted Leader’s Toolkit
Embracing introversion as a strength has allowed me to harness unique skills inherent to introverted leaders. Here are a few:
1. Profound Listening: Introverts excel at listening. We are keen observers who deeply process information. By assuming the role of a listener rather than the primary speaker, we foster an inclusive and respectful environment—a cornerstone of effective leadership. This trait has enabled me, as a leader, to understand my team’s needs, leading to more productive decision-making. Additionally, it proved invaluable when working with clients during my time in management consulting. Deep listening helped me comprehend their needs and provide effective solutions.
2. Thoughtful Decision-Making: As an introvert, I value reflection and deliberate analysis. This results in fewer impulsive decisions and more calculated, informed strategies. Honing this trait took time, but it proved advantageous throughout my finance career, where avoiding impulsiveness was crucial to preventing serious errors.
3. Calm and Reflective: Introverted leaders often exude a composed and calm presence, even in challenging situations. We are less susceptible to impulsive reactions and take the time to reflect before responding. Former managers have praised my ability to remain collected under pressure and my capacity to remain unruffled. This sense of stability and confidence has fostered trust within my teams.
4. Authentic Communication: We might not be the loudest in the room, but when we speak, it’s meaningful. This authentic communication style leads to deeper relationships and trust within our teams.
5. Excelling in One-on-One Interactions: Contrary to group settings, introverts typically thrive in one-on-one interactions. By scheduling individual meetings with team members, you can capitalize on this strength. These interactions align with your comfort zone while cultivating strong, genuine relationships that enhance team cohesion and communication.
Empowering Introverted Professionals
So, how can you, an introverted professional, channel your introversion into a leadership superpower?
Cain’s book provides a roadmap for introverts to embrace their natural inclinations and utilize them effectively in leadership:
1. Embrace Your Nature: Accept your introverted traits and recognize them as strengths rather than shortcomings. Your unique qualities define your leadership style – and that’s okay. Your introversion is a secret weapon, not a liability. Be open about your introverted nature. This transparency can help build understanding and mutual respect.
2. Cultivate Your Skills: Engage in constant self-improvement. Work on honing your communication skills, managing stress effectively, and speaking up when necessary. One strategy I used was to ask at least one thought-provoking question in meetings.
3. Leverage Your Strengths: Utilize your introverted traits to their fullest. Be the attentive listener, the meticulous decision-maker, the relationship builder, and the empowering leader your team needs. In the teams I’ve led, I made sure to understand the motivations of each of my teammates. By actively listening and structuring work to align with those motivations, I fostered a collaborative environment.
4. Practice Active Listening: Use your natural ability to listen deeply. Not only will this make your colleagues feel valued, but it will provide valuable insights for decision-making and makes you a better leader.
5. Communicate Authentically: Don’t try to imitate extroverted communication styles. Instead, focus on authentic, meaningful conversations. Find your own voice and learn to use it strategically.
In the evolving world of business, it’s clear that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to leadership. As we continue to recognize the strengths that diverse personality types bring to the table, we can expect a shift towards more inclusive and varied leadership styles.
To my fellow introverts, remember: your introversion is not an obstacle, but a superpower waiting to be harnessed. The world needs more leaders like you—leaders who listen, think deeply, and empower others. We’re not merely capable leaders; we’re exceptional ones.
PS. If you need help discovering your own superpower or learning how to become a better leader (even as an introvert), you can book a 1-on-1 session with a BlackTies Career Coach today.