Extrovert leader? Tap into the power of the introverts around you.

Despite your best efforts, key people in your team remain passive and disengaged with your way of leading. It may be time to tune into the introverts’ wavelength.

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(Adapted from an article I originally wrote for the Australian Financial Review, published on 10 February 2015)

You have got to where you are through being an ideas and people person. You just can’t stand still! But some key people in your new team seem to be entirely unresponsive to your ideas and charms. You really need them onside, and need to break through. Extrovert… it’s time to get to know the introvert.

 Some key differences between you… and them

The differences arise in how you process and receive energy from the world around you. “Extraverts” (psychologist Carl Jung’s original and correctly Latin description, aka in more recent times as “extroverts”), are outgoing and know a lot of people – their network and friendship base is broad. They also jump quickly into and between activities, and are quick to ‘fire off’ the ideas that come to their minds. Introverts, on the other hand, take time to reflect and really really focus. They prefer deeper relationships rather than frequent and broadly based social stimulation. Their inside world of thought and analysis may be quite involved! It can also mean delays in moving from reflection to action. Of course, many of us do not feel completely extroverted or introverted across all situations – it might depend on the ‘hat’ we are wearing – but tendencies can get magnified in the workplace. Forcing people to unnaturally adopt ‘what works for you’ will lead to friction.

 The introverts’ journey in an extrovert world

The perils of introverts striving to step up to the extrovert plate are detailed in Susan Cain’s best-seller Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. She encourages introverts to be more at ease in their own skins, in a world where the extrovert ideal is increasingly losing its gloss. On a broader level, introversion is the necessary countervailing influence on the dangers of unchecked extroversion where excitability, risk-taking and potentially reckless action can lead to catastrophic outcomes, such as Enron or the 2008 banking crisis. With a seat at the table, she argues that introverts would have seen the finer details and warning signals, and helped steer a course well clear of the disasters that followed.

So, are there things you could be doing differently to activate the power of the introverts in your team?

Rules of engagement

In my coaching experience, a rigid view that one needs to bring the other party around to your way of thinking, without acknowledging that they may engage with the world around them entirely differently, is often a starting point that needs to be challenged. So, if you have extrovert tendencies, some ideas to help you better tune in to the introverts around you include the following.

  • Recognise that silence is often golden. As we know, introverts live in a more reflective place. You can benefit from silence too. Avoid thinking out loud too often when in the company of your team, with all the ideas that come to you – keeping up with you is exhausting!
  • Listen, slowly. Part of using silence more strategically will be resisting the natural temptation to download back. At every opportunity. Listen and absorb.
  • Let them deep-dive. Subject matter focus and expertise is a brief that the introvert can naturally run with. They will be doing their best work when not under your gaze. Give them autonomy, though do check in every now and then to confirm their focus is staying on the right track.
  • Quiet spaces. The march towards entirely open planned work environments is robbing introverts of the quiet spaces they need. Some privacy equals good management practice for allowing introverts to be at their best.
  • Assign specific group roles. Unnecessary group work where lines of ‘who does what’ are unclear will be frustrating to the introvert. Provide specific clarity as to their responsibilities.
  • Avoid surprises. Your impulsivity is out of whack with their need for structure. Again, slow down!
  • Send out meeting agendas. Not interested in your great ideas? What you may be perceiving as disengagement in your meetings is more likely a reflection of introverts needing time to think about what you’re revealing. Send agendas out before your meetings, and you will get more feedback from your team.

 Activate the power of the introvert

As Susan Cain observes, “there’s zero correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas.” So, keep a lid on your natural impulsivity, and give some space to the introvert – your decisions will be better for it.

© Tom Loncar Executive Coaching 2015