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Introverted Leaders Stand Up

You only have to look at what gets coverage on TV and in best-selling business magazines and books, to see that we live in an extroverted world where being charismatic; excited; gregarious; and assertive is portrayed as the way you need to operate if you want to be successful in life, and in business.

At work, extroverts find it easier to do the self-marketing that makes them visible.  They find it easier to contribute and have a view in meetings. They are also more comfortable doing the networking and ‘schmoozing’ that gets them noticed by senior managers and those in decision-making positions.

So, unless organisations have real discipline and compensating processes in place, discussions at succession planning / talent management meetings and in making senior appointments are likely to be:

  • Dominated by extroverted leaders who are likely to talk more positively and enthusiastically about their extroverted direct reports (as we tend to be drawn to people who are like us) than their more introverted peers.
  • Harder for introverted direct reports to ‘make an impression in’ as a result of much of their activity and contribution being delivered in a less visible and energetic style, so people often don’t see or hear about what they do.

As a result, the outcomes from this kind of session will continue to favour the extroverted leaders over the more introverted, whether or not their performance and capability is actually better.  You could argue that it’s a bit like the situation we’ve had in organisations over many years where women have traditionally progressed to a certain level, but not beyond, as a result of ‘glass ceilings’ / sexist thinking / not being part of the old-boys’ network etc.

Steps have been taken in recent years to try and redress the male/female imbalance with some success.  Perhaps it is time to adopt some different approaches to ensure that organisations have a way to recognise the gifts and abilities that introverts naturally bring to their roles (good listeners; thoughtful; ability to focus; reliability; good attention spans etc.) and value these as much as the elements that extroverts naturally bring and make more obvious (rapport; enthusiasm; expressive; entertaining etc.)?

So, a challenge to the introverted leaders out there: Remind yourselves that you naturally bring many gifts to your roles and it’s about time you (we) stood up and ‘shouted’ about them.  This is going to take some courage and the development of strategies to deal with some of the elements we don’t naturally feel good about – self-promotion; not having all the answers; networking, but if we are going to change things, we need to do some things differently.

And a challenge to the extroverted leaders among you to stop and think about the people in your teams who do a great job without making a song and dance about it, and start to notice what they do so you can more fairly represent them in discussions about succession/appointments/talent. While you may need to mine a bit deeper to find the gold within your introverted team members, it will be there.  Go looking for it and reap the benefits in better performance across the team and organisation.


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