How Introversion and Leadership can go Hand in Hand

You can’t be a successful leader unless you’re an extravert, right? WRONG! Here's how to use introversion to fuel your career.

When we think of introversion, we tend to think of those coiled away in corners at parties too scared to talk to the crowd: timid, asocial, a soloist rather than a team player. And when we think of leadership we tend to imagine a leader as someone outgoing, loud, and energetic; someone who can gather a crowd together and lead it – an extravert, basically.

Since extraversion and general view of leadership have lots of traits in common, it’s only natural to think one equals the other. Introverts have long been regarded as good, diligent executors, but mediocre leaders.

Well, we’ve got news for you…this really isn’t the case. This view on things is long outdated. Being an introvert doesn’t mean you’re shy; it’s also not a hurdle on your way to becoming a leader.

Leadership is all about solving complex problems and pushing your team to get the best results. Frankly, you don’t need to be an extravert to do either.

Introversion does not impede success. In fact it can fuel your career (if you know how to capitalize on your character traits!)

But FIRST – What is Introversion?

Introversion doesn’t equate shyness – they’re very different. Unlike shyness, introversion isn’t about a fear of peers judging you. It’s about how someone responds to stimulation, including social stimulation. So let’s break this down…

The major way that extraverts and introverts differ is in regards to the way their neurotransmitters respond to dopamine. Yep, that’s right, it’s a physiological difference.

How exactly does this difference play out? …. Dopamine is a chemical that is released in the brain when triggered by external stimulation. Think climbing a social ladder, gaining a reward, attracting a mate, etc…. When the human brain floods with this chemical our energy spikes and we become more aware of our surroundings. The dopamine reward network is much greater in extraverts. So, what would usually get an extravert’s blood pumping and wanting more tends to be exhausting for an introvert. This leaves introverts seeking that quiet time that deems them “antisocial”.

While extraverts enjoy dopamine, introverts enjoy a different chemical called acetylcholine. The difference between the two is that acetylcholine makes us feel good when we turn inward. It powers our abilities to think deeply, reflect, and focus intensely on just one thing for a long period.

So while you might be an introvert, you still can be outgoing and enjoy being around people–you’ll just need more alone time after than an extrovert would.

Knowing your tendencies and where on the scale you lie can be super beneficial. So give our favorite quiz a go to gauge where you fall on the scale. Working out your tendencies can get you on the right track of how to manage your natural preferences.

Also, keep in mind that you may be an ambivert – the bucket that quite a few of us here at Workshopper fell into. If this is the case, don’t steer clear of our introversion hacks. The next few points can still be beneficial even if you don’t turn out to be a fully-fledged introvert.

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Bridging the gap between Leadership and Introversion

1. Do the Prep Work

Introverts don’t struggle to hold meetings because they’re reticent. Introverts struggle because they’re often more introspective than extraverts.

This means that introverts usually take the time to think before they speak. They also tend to want all the information before making decisions – steering away from risk. So when it comes to leading a meeting, introverts can be less in control when having surprises sprung on them. While extraverts might be good at “winging it”, introverts perform much better when they have that extra bit of time to prepare.

The best way to resolve this?

By preparing an agenda. This can clear up communication between the team and the meeting so not everything is pressured to happen in a room within a one hour slot. Not only does this ease stress but it can also be a fantastic organization technique.

Just as introverted leaders like to know what to expect in advance, introverted employees respond much better with frameworks. As well as preparing an agenda, we suggest opening up more communication channels to take the pressure off the actual meeting. For those who don’t enjoy speaking up – these extra communication channels can make sure that good ideas are never left out.

P.S. Sending the agenda out to the team before the meeting is a great tool to ensure solid outcomes, even if you and your team are extraverts!

Want something specific to get you going in the right direction? Here are a few ways we have opened up our communication channels:

  • Hosting “Office Hours” for team members who want to chat in person outside of meetings.
  • Using communication tools like Slack, Notion, and Trello. Keeping communication open on different channels means that no-one feels pressured to speak when they don’t want to.
  • Encouraging team members to prepare for team meetings in advance so nothing will be missed and everyone has the time to think about what they would like to bring to the discussion.
  • Asking how different team members would like to give and receive feedback, even if the feedback is complimentary. Sometimes introverted team members might find this process awkward in a group setting. Avoiding feedback is not the way forward – it is much better to find a different channel, such as email, to communicate all types of feedback.
  • Scheduling one on one meetings with team members regularly.

2. Own it

There’s nothing wrong with being an introvert and letting your teammates know that you are one can create a feeling of trust. This helps to set the expectations of your colleagues straight right off the bat. Pat Wadors, former Senior Vice President of LinkedIn mentioned in the New Work Summit by The New York Times that trust is super important to building strong relationships – and we couldn’t agree more. Forcing yourself too far out of your comfort zone can deplete you and suddenly becoming completely quiet can be alarming for colleagues and newcomers. In her case, as an introvert who has to network 24/7, she opens lines of communication by telling all new colleagues that she is an introvert straight off the bat.

She mentions, “I learned at an early stage to declare that I am an introvert…. I say – I’ll eat my lunch by myself to recharge and this way I’ll be better for you in the afternoons. If I didn’t do that I don’t think I would’ve earned the trust [of my team.]”

Telling people you’re an introvert can feel awkward at first (‘do I HAVE to?’) but it really can be so beneficial, especially if you are going to be working with a team long term. The stigma of introversion has led people to believe that they need to pretend that they enjoy the same types of tasks and socialization – even if this means doing poorer work. This is, to put it bluntly, total BS. When communication is open, everyone will learn to respect your needs and you can focus your energy on what helps you to work at your optimal level.

You should always communicate your workplace preferences as early as possible. You wouldn’t shy away from telling your colleagues whether you prefer to get updates via email or slack, right? Well, telling them what’s the best way to work with you as an introvert is not much different.

Despite the fact that most cultures tend to favor extraverts over introverts, one is not better than the other. In fact, the best performing teams are a mixture of introverts and extraverts. So take the plunge and own it!

I learned at an early stage to declare that I am an introvert....I say - I'll eat my lunch by myself to recharge and this way I'll be better for you in the afternoons. If I didn't do that I don't think I would've earned the trust of my team


3. Put Systems in Place to Compensate the Group Dynamic

Collaborative work tends to be riddled with groupthink – which is the least efficient way to work.

Managing a group of people can be exhausting work for an introvert. Although introverts can be good at mediating groups, they’ll perform much better when teams are kept small and when the roundabout discussions are kept to a minimum.

The way to avoid all the groupthink is to put systems in place that will end unstructured discussions and let everyone’s voice be heard.

How do you go about this?

Well lucky you – we have a bunch of tools…

One of our favorites is an exercise called the Lightning Decision Jam (LDJ) . This short but mighty exercise lets us get to the bottom of issues at hand AND come up with solutions – all without unstructured discussion. How? By providing a step-by step system where everyone will think up their ideas alone but share them with the team in a way that optimizes brainstorming. The exercise also contains a voting system that democratizes the entire meeting process. So instead of chiming in to pitch an idea, your team can say everything they need to say with little public speaking.

The LDJ is a great starting point for bringing introverts and extraverts together on an equal playing field.

4.Have a few facilitation tricks up your sleeve

We’ve all been in a meeting that started on the right note, but got hijacked by unrelated discussions. As an introvert, it’s particularly important to know how to regain the floor when a discussion has spun out of control.

In any group meeting, there is always room to go off track. And while going off on a tangent might raise some interesting points, it’s never conducive to being productive. As a facilitator, it’s important to pull your team out of these conversations so you can express the value of everyone’s time.

You might’ve heard of the Jellyfish method. This is an effective tool for pulling your team out of off-topic discussions. Especially if you have some persistent interrupters on the team. How to do it? Well…it’s very simple. Tell all members of the team that when someone goes on a tangent, to call out the word “jellyfish” to stop the discussion and bring everyone back on track. It’s a catchall for “Why don’t you take this offline — the rest of us would like our meeting back.” Because jellyfish is a simple and funny word, it’s nearly impossible to be offended when it is called out. It’s a great way to make cutting people off less offensive and to share the responsibility of keeping the meeting on track.

Another method that works wonders with letting introverts hold their ground is the Parking Lot method.

How to run this method? Before the meeting begins put a chart on the board with 3 columns labeled

  • What
  • Who
  • By When

The point of the method is to write down all tangential issues so you can circle back to them at the end of the meeting. By keeping track of them on a chart, team mates can feel secure that the discussion of these topics will happen – just not right now. When the meeting comes to an end discuss if any of the points are quick answers or should be separate meetings. It’s a great way to keep track of everything that needs to be discussed and not let any tangents detract from your meeting.

For many introverts, overthinking their actions can be a real hurdle. So we’ve written down a few more ideas of things to try if you find your team goes off on a tangent:

  • Tell everyone in the meeting before the meeting begins that this way of working has time constraints and you have goals you would like to reach. Make sure to list these goals at the beginning of the meeting. This way everyone knows that if you interrupt them it’s not due to a lack of interest but because a tangent isn’t conducive to the meeting style.
  • If someone in the meeting is interrupting say: “One moment, I’m going to finish my thought, then we’ll circle back to you” and keep talking.
  • If this person is interjecting to an uncomfortable level, it is a good idea to be direct but to also be polite. Consider saying something like “[insert name] I value your suggestions. Could you let me finish my thoughts and then we’ll have an open conversation about them?”
  • Rephrase the point into a question – rather than saying “This is irrelevant” rephrase the topic they want to discuss into a question. For example, “That’s an interesting point [insert name], how do you think we can use that to resolve x, y, and z?”

5. Schedule time to decompress

So in case you’re an extravert yourself, we thought we’d put together a few points that can help you master your facilitation techniques. Many think that extraverts are natural leaders but extraverts can also face challenges. So to cover all bases we’ve made a list on how to ensure you’re getting the greatest value out of your meetings too.

Extraverted types are usually fab at holding the attention of those in a meeting. But extraverts tend to enjoy talking and thus can miss details or overrule without giving members time to contribute. Extraverted leaders tend to decide without hearing all the information. So we’d like to encourage extraverts to go slower as it can have some great benefits.

So here we go:

  • Keep meetings as small as possible so everyone feels comfortable speaking up. Even if you’re happy to mediate a large group, some members might feel intimidated. This can result in them not giving you their full value. Go for small and strong when possible.
  • Listen to what your team is saying – extraverts can tend to run the conversation. While you need to be in control to facilitate, it is still important to pay attention to what each team member says.
  • Don’t always fill the silence – make sure everyone feels comfortable and encouraged.
  • Do not put anyone on the spot. Saying, “[Insert name] we haven’t heard from you in a while, thoughts?” could squander a teammate’s ability to bring good solutions forward. Instead, opt for: “Ok so we’ve heard from [list the team members], are there any other ideas we haven’t heard yet that might be helpful?” This is a great way to build trust in the team. Always keep your team focused on the task rather than on the fear of public speaking.
  • Take some time for comfortable silence. Introverts and junior members might worry about cutting others off. Often we find that these types only speak if no one else is speaking. While excessive silence can be uncomfortable – try not to fill every gap.
  • Use the strengths of the introverts on your teams. Introverts tend to have a lot of insight on the topics they’re discussing so ask for feedback. Prompt your team with questions that tap into introverts’ natural talents. Try: “Can you see anything we have overlooked here?” and, “can anyone sum this up for us?”

So those are some of our hacks for utilizing the strengths of your introversion! We’re confident that implementing these will get you to take advantage of your strengths. And we’re sure you can resolve any of those issues you might be facing with leading a team. We have so many tools for all types of personalities, so stay tuned on our channel!

Go and implement them and let us know how you get on!

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