Why introverts make incredible leaders (and what you can learn from them)

When we think of leadership, we often think of the bold, the charismatic, the loud. Meanwhile, the word introvert brings to mind qualities like shy, socially awkward, wallflower or insecure.

But, as a society, we’ve got it all wrong. Introverts are not necessarily shy or socially awkward or insecure. In fact, I know several people, myself included, who I would call outgoing introverts —  confident, engaging people who enjoy leading but who recharge with quiet, alone time.

You might recognize the names of a few famous introverted leaders, according to Inc.com:

  • Barack Obama
  • Eleanor Roosevelt
  • Elon Musk
  • Rosa Parks
  • Bill Gates
  • Hillary Clinton

Even Lady Gaga has said that she identifies with introversion. I mean, Lady Gaga?! She most certainly doesn’t fit the stereotype of an introvert and, if you look into her work she’s more than a pop-singer but also a leader of social movements among her fans.

The bottom line is that introverts are different than extroverts. They experience the world in a different way but these differences are what can make them incredible leaders when their powers are leveraged properly.

Here a few typically introvert strengths that can translate to powerful leadership…

Introverts tend to consider decisions thoroughly

Introverts often need more time than extroverts to reflect, consider, and think deeply. They spend more time observing and listening and then go away to let everything percolate before presenting their thoughts or conclusions. This process can be confused with indecisiveness but can also be a highly valuable leadership trait that can help organisations make smart, strategic decisions.

Introverts excel in small groups and one-on-one relationships

Introverts are excellent at paying attention to the details of individuals and catering communication to suit individual needs. When you’re leading a team, there are many, many ripple effects to morale and productivity when your team members feel seen, heard and understood.

Introverts leave space for others

Introverts don’t typically strive to be in the spotlight. They’re happy to be there if it serves their purpose, or if they’re called upon in need, but because they don’t seek to be the center of attention, this can mean more space for sharing credit and accolades with their team.

Introverts listen

There is incredible power in leading by listening. Listening to what the team wants, what the stakeholders want, what the clients want, hearing about problems before they explode.

Introverts have the capacity to listen intently not only for what is being said, but for what isn’t, which can help them deliver more of what’s needed.

I recently met with a client who is a very driven, productive, extrovert. He shared with me how astonished he was recently when one of his team members had a personal breakdown despite having told him she was fine. He was confused why she didn’t just acknowledge her struggles and ask for help, but saw it as a learning opportunity to pay attention to more than the words being said.

Coach’s Question:

If you’re more extroverted, what typically introverted qualities will you incorporate into your leadership style? What can you do to support your introverted colleagues and team members?

If you’re more introverted, are you letting your leadership strengths shine? Are you allowing yourself to confidently follow your heart to lead others? How can you support your extroverted colleagues and team members?

5 steps to choose your next career move

Have you ever looked around at your career and wondered if you’re on the right path? Or, maybe you know you’d like to make a change but you’re just not sure how to go about it.

Taking the time to assess where you are in your career is an extremely valuable exercise. Even if you’re perfectly happy, it’s can be good to check in with yourself and your career at LEAST once every year.

Make it a ritual. Set an annual date for yourself, grab a glass of wine with a great view or a coffee at your favorite cafe.

So, when the days come when you’ve decided you do want to make a change – how do you know what that should be? 

Step 1: Identify the real issue with where you are

In order to ensure you don’t end up in a new position with the same issues creeping in over time is to get to the bottom of what’s not working where you are.

Are you bored? Overwhelmed? Unfulfilled?

Do you feel like you don’t fit in with your team? Do you disagree with your boss? Do you feel recognised and appreciated?

Or is the work the problem? Is it too easy or too hard? Is it too repetitive?

What do you like best about your industry?

What do you like best at your organisation?

What do you like best in your department or current area of work?

Take a week and observe the tasks that cross your desk. Which ones light you up and give you energy? Which ones are draining and make you want to procrastinate?

In your notebook, keep a list of the ones that stand out and what category each falls into (love it/hate it).

Step 2: Identify the type of career change you want to make

Figuring out what exactly needs to change is the first step.

You don’t want to make a change quickly because you just need change and find yourself back in the same situation in a year.

Throughout my own career, I followed a mantra for new jobs, and shared it with people who worked for me, encouraging them to follow it too. 

That mantra was, “Try always to run TO something, not FROM something.”  

Finding out what you want to run to is harder than just running from your current role, but figuring it out helps that change be profoundly successful.

Spend some time with a notebook or journal and do 10 minutes of free-writing answering each of these questions.

What are you most proud of, in your career? In life?

When you look at your list from Step 1 of what you love and what you don’t — does your industry provide this? Does your organization? Does your department?

If the industry is the problem, what other industries have organizations that meet your likes?

If the industry seems good, but the organizational level is a challenge, are there other (competitors, suppliers, etc) in your industry that would meet your needs?

If industry and organization seem good but you’re not feeling good in your department, then it might be time to move laterally in the company. What departments might offer the “likes” you’re looking for?

When you’ve gone through all this, and you look at your list of what you love and what you don’t love, and the industries, companies, departments — what would be a great job or role, regardless of money, title, prestige?

What might hold you back from going for that? What’s your gut instinct?

This will help you identify if it’s a complete career change, a change of organisation, a change of department or area of work, or just a step up from where you are.

Step 3: Research your options

Whether you’re looking at changing your career, your organisation, or your current role within your organisation – you’ll want to know what your options are.

Look at job boards and see what kind of roles pique your interest, jot them down.

Look at your company’s org chart and circle any roles you want to know more about. Think about the tasks from Step 1 and 2 and look for roles that have a higher percentage of tasks in your “lights me up” category.

You might want to reflect, in this Step, on:

How much effort are you prepared to put into finding the right next role? How much of a priority is it for you and how important is the next opportunity?

How much risk are you prepared to take in considering the right job or career? In pursuing it?

Step 4: Talk to people who are in roles you’re interested in

You don’t have to have it all figured out by this stage – this is still exploratory.

Find a few people in roles that you’re interested in and take them for coffee. The goal is to find out if the role just sounds good or if it really does align with the things you’re looking for.

A few good questions to ask them are:

  • How did you get to your current role? What has your career path been to date?
  • Do you have any special certifications or education that help you in your role?
  • What do you love about your work?
  • What do you find challenging? (Every role has a downside or challenges – find out what they are).  Keep in mind, what others find challenging, you might love — and vice versa.
  • If you could go back five years in your career, would you do anything different?
  • What are your next career steps?

This allows you to get first-hand information about the role you’re potentially interested in. If you learn at the end of the coffee meeting that it’s really not for you, that’s great, repeat Step 4 until you find some good options for you.

Step 5: Reflect & Decide

Take some time to go back through your notebook or journal and think about why you want to make a change, what exactly needs to change in order for you to be fulfilled, what types of responsibilities you want more of, and what options you have.

Think deeply about what you really want from your work and what you want to contribute and commit to taking the next step towards your goals.

Give some thought to a few more questions:

Why do you work?

List all of the reasons you work or have a career or job – for example, you might list things like? Prestige among my peers, to feel I’m giving to my community, to feel useful, to pay the mortgage, to continue the family business, to meet people, to earn some extra money, etc.

When you meet new people, how do you want to describe yourself in relation to your job or career?

Coach’s Question:

What is the next step you’re going to take to help you decide what your next career move should be?