How to be a better leader as an introvert?

Will you hesitate to express your thoughts before you do? Should you pause to review your argument for pros and cons? If so, then you might well be introverted. And while some can misinterpret why you take your time to respond, it can be a major advantage too.


Because not blurring your thoughts impedes you to make a costly faux pas. And in certain technical areas, one wrong word can cost your job – whether you’re a news spokeswoman, a politician or a diplomat, for instance. For example , think of a diplomat blurring impulsively some comment on the funny hat of a first lady!

Another advantage to thinking before speaking is that when everything you say is well-founded, your statements will gain extra consideration.

By thoroughly processing your thoughts before you share them, you’ll greatly improve the quality of your statements – and people will notice. Imagine a panel discussion where you provide all the relevant data, present your position in a conclusive way, and anticipate counter-arguments. In consequence, you’ll appear more competent and worth listening to compared to a co-panelist who hogged the mic to share nothing of substance.

In fact, if people know that you don’t talk impulsively, you are more likely to have access to useful, privileged knowledge. When people know that you can hold your tongue, they expect their secrets to be safe with you – meaning that they may be confiding helpful, privileged information.For example, your boss might confide in you that he secretly applied for a job in another company. If you wanted to become your boss’s successor, this knowledge would allow you to start distinguishing yourself from the crowd.

To further our exploration of introverts, let’s consider the case of Judy, a quiet four-year-old. Judy rarely plays with her peers, but is a brilliant observer and knows the exact activities and playmates each of her peers prefers.

In fact most introverts like Judy are good observers. This is because introverts often don’t participate in games, banter, chit-chat or discussions, but rather stay at the fringes and intently observe the interactions.

For example, Judy might be reluctant to play tag – but while her peers are focusing on trying to escape, she’ll spend her time closely observing the action, learning who always giggles nervously before being caught and which children cooperate to divert the chaser.

This tendency to pay close attention also makes many introverts great listeners: when they listen to you, introverts really focus on the ideas you’re sharing. They are also less distracted than extroverts, because they do not think up witty answers. These tendencies lead many introverts to become well-trained listeners: if you’ve had a pair of fraternal twins, one of them a talkative extrovert, the other an introverted listener, by the age of eight, the introvert will have much more listening practice than his brother.

But why are these skills important?

Because these observational and listening skills are crucial to being a great leader.

A leader learns valuable knowledge about the needs of its team through careful listening and observation. She should know the particular inspiration, for example, that can help a team member overcome a dry spell and boost overall performance. Good listening skills also help build relationships with customers and superiors because when you listen to them attentively, people feel respected and valued.

Meeting the right people and nurturing relationships are essential for a leader’s success. But does this mean that introverts have to exhaust themselves spending their workdays in team meetings and their evenings collecting business cards?

The tension between introverts and traditional networking arises because extroverts and introverts prefer different types of interaction: extroverts enjoy small talk, whilst introverts prefer in-depth conversation. For introverts, networking often consists of too much small talk which they can’t connect to.

But there are other ways of networking for introverts – like networking websites. This is great for introverts because many of them prefer to communicate through writing, which they can do in the relative quiet of their cubicle. Also, many introverts are already proficient writers, and are adept at making good first impressions via email or messaging. Finally, on a website introverts have the opportunity to think through and revise everything they want to contribute as they desire.

Another great way for introverts to network is to focus on one-on-one conversation. This allows them to get to know the other person in depth, and increase rapport by adapting to each person’s need. For example, they can find out about the way the other person thinks – like if they prefer abstract concepts or a hands-on approach. In a focused one-on-one conversation, people are also more likely to open up and share intimate details which are useful to leaders.

Finally, introverts can connect with people who would keep silent in a team meeting – maybe other introverts – as they’ll appear much more present and approachable than in a meeting.

Imagine: maybe there will be no more workplaces in a hundred years’ time, people will operate from home and any social contact will take place on the internet: this may be the age of the introverts. Yet before then, to adjust to our extroverted culture, introverted leaders will have to remove their comfort zones.


Because if introverts stay in their comfort zone, they’ll avoid many kinds of interaction. For example, their dislike of the limelight will make them avoid public speaking. Or they might steer around unofficial get-togethers with their colleagues in an attempt to stock up on solitary time, and avoid the small talk typical of informal gatherings. Finally, they might email urgent messages instead of calling their co-workers on the phone, because many introverts prefer writing to talking.

But embracing these kinds of interaction and overcoming fear and discomfort is crucial for an introverted leader’s career. As a leader, an introvert must educate her team, represent her company and publicly present her ideas – all tasks which will involve public speaking at some point. And unofficial get-togethers actually provide introverts with great opportunities to form professionally helpful alliances, learn more about their team and create rapport.

Finally, emailing is an ineffective way of communicating important news, because mails take time to be opened – or can be missed altogether.

Some people struggle so much with small talk they come to believe they’re simply lacking the small talk gene. But they’re mistaken – because in fact, everyone can learn small talk.

Small-talking is a particular challenge for introverts, and their tendency to shun it can make them appear rude, unfriendly or incompetent – which can seriously harm their careers. But if introverts prepare for small-talk in advance, they can become confident enough to stop avoiding it. They could for example prepare backup topics, entertaining anecdotes and generic open-ended questions they can employ when needed.

Preparation can also help the introverts speed up their response time – and avoid underestimating themselves intellectually. As we have seen, introverts are taking their time working out a well-founded answer. But if an introvert anticipates and thinks about some possible questions before a meeting, when the time comes she will reply quickly.

Introverts benefit not only from preparation, but also from regularly practicing small talk and public speaking – two crucial aspects of being a good leader. Like preparation, practice can address any of the challenges of being an introverted leader. Maybe you lack practice at public speaking because you shun the limelight, or avoid small talk because you like deep conversations. But if you practice things you wouldn’t do naturally, like making small-talk, you’ll gradually get used to them. It’s like a right-handed person practicing painting with their left hand: eventually, it’ll stop feeling awkward.

Practice also helps you add tools to your communication skill set – like the ability to easily raise your voice or dramatically whisper during a public speech to emphasize your key point. This is especially important when preparation is not an option, like when a position requires giving great ad lib presentations.

Being an introvert can make taking on leadership positions challenging, but there are ways of overcoming the obstacles. Your listening and observational skills and your tendency to carefully choose your words can give you an advantage over extroverted leaders and support your success.

Check out my related post: How to recruit for diversity?

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