Leading the Introverts in your Organization

Scotty in a dressMy husband has a BIG personality. He’s gregarious at parties, loves to tell jokes and has been known to wear a dress – for a laugh. (He’s a professional comedian.) 

If you met him you’d guess that he was naturally outgoing. The classic extrovert.

But my husband is deeply introverted. After a performance or a dinner party or even a long business meeting he needs to be by himself for a few hours to recharge his battery. In fact, one of the biggest fights we ever had was early in our marriage when he left my brother’s wedding reception to take a walk ‘for a few minutes alone’ instead of staying to dance the chicken dance with me. At the time I was furious. Now I understand that he is an Introvert in Extrovert’s clothing.

My husband has learned to exhibit certain behaviors to get along in our extroverted society. And among performers he’s not alone. The Huffington Post recently reported that Lady Gaga, Christina Aguilera and Emma Watson all identify as introverts and according to USA Today an estimated 40% of CEOs have introverted personalities too.

When I first read those statistics they surprised me because I spend a lot of my time coaching senior executives. Our Western Business culture has such a strong bias toward extroverted personality traits that Introverted CEO’s and top executives hire people like me to help their Leadership teams learn to behave more like extroverts.

More often than not I’m brought in to help people get better at things like:

  • speaking up in group work situations
  • brainstorming
  • networking
  • thinking on their feet
  • increasing their executive presence

What if??

It’s great that organizations are willing to invest in helping their executives have better presence, but I think it’s also important to be aware of the bias toward extroverted personality traits as the outcome of a coaching engagement.

What if, in addition to partnering with people like me, organizations got better at understanding the working habits of their introverts? Now, when I get hired I’ve started asking this question:

“What if you kept a sharp eye out for the introverts in the firm and created a culture where it was okay to have quiet moments as part of a workday?”

Who are the Introverts in extrovert’s clothing in your office?

 With that in mind, here are a few clues that someone is an Introvert:

  • They find small talk cumbersome and as a result will often avoid large networking events.
  • They have a fondness for philosophical conversations and a love of thought-provoking books or movies.
  • They are easily overwhelmed in environments with an excess of stimulation. Working in an office with no walls makes it very hard for them to produce their best work.
  • They prefer not to be surrounded by people on all sides and may sit at the back of the boardroom during staff meetings or near the door.
  • They may seem tired or unresponsive at the end of the day full of meetings.
  • They notice details others miss.
  • They rarely pick up the phone when you call, but will be very articulate when they call you back.
  • They send well thought through emails with great ideas after meetings, but don’t speak much during the meeting.

If a colleague or employee came to mind as you were reading the above list, give some thought as to how you can best support them on the job.

And if you resonated with any of these examples, perhaps some of the ideas below could help you be more productive at work too:

  • Is there a ‘quiet’ room in your office that people can go to whenever they need ‘thinking’ time? And if so, is it available to people easily? (If booking it becomes complicated, no one will use it when they need it most.)
  • Do you send out the agenda to your meetings a few days ahead of time so that people can think about what to say at the meeting?
  • Do you give people 5-10 minutes at the beginning of a meeting time to read the agenda or the deck before you begin discussions?
  • Do you give people an opportunity during large group sessions to talk to each other in pairs or triads or do you just call on the loudest person in the room?
  • Do you leave detailed messages when you get someone’s voice mail or do you just say: ‘Give me a call’?
  • Is it acceptable in your organization for someone to ‘step away’ for a few minutes after giving a big presentation to collect themselves?
  • Do you provide sensitive feedback in private? (This is good advise for managing anyone, but especially important when coaching an introvert.)

As a Leader is your responsibility is to create a working environment where you can get the best out of both your extroverted and your introverted colleagues and staff.

See if you can weave some reflective moments into your culture. The introverts in your organization will thank you. My husband will thank you. I might even send him over wearing a dress – just for a laugh.

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About the Author:

I started my career as a professional actress and now work with business folks helping them increase their executive presence by learning the skills actors use to have great stage presence. Clients include: Google, Comcast and the Harvard Executive Education program (yes, THAT Harvard. My Mom is too proud.) Typically companies bring me in as a keynote speaker or workshop leader. Let's talk about how I can help you, too.

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