A few months ago, a participant in one of my programs asked me if introverted leaders are at a disadvantage in the workplace? The answer is a resounding YES!
Her question reminded me of a conversation I had with a manufacturing plant manager years ago. He was frustrated with his safety manager who was quiet and didn’t speak up in meetings. The plant manager was gregarious and hired people who matched his style. Everyone on his leadership team, excluding the safety manager, was outspoken. Their team meetings were boisterous events in which everyone talked, excluding the safety manager. The plant manager felt that if the safety manager didn’t start speaking up in public settings, his contribution and career would be limited.
Often the only exposure most employees get to their organization’s senior leaders is in meetings. And introverts often don’t speak up in meetings. Senior leaders often decide that because they’ve never heard ______ (insert name) speak, s/he must have nothing to say. This isn’t true, of course. And it isn’t fair. But it is how it is.
Extroverts think as they’re speaking, hence the expression think out loud. Introverts typically think through their thoughts before they share them.
Introverts have a lot to say. And because they process before they speak, what they have to say can be more thoughtful than what extroverts say. But the senior people in your organization are busy. While they may want to get to know each employee personally, they simply can’t. Busy schedules and limited exposure force senior people to form quick and sometimes inaccurate impressions and judgments about employees.
Introverted leaders need to find ways to make their opinions and contributions known. And they can do that in a variety of ways that are aligned with their personal styles. None of us are going to, nor should we, become a different person to fit in at work. We can adapt and adopt different behaviors, but we are who we are. And if we try to be someone we’re not, that façade will eventually become unbearable, and we’ll quit.
My advice is to be yourself, and find ways to share your contributions in a way that resonates with your personal style.
Here are a few suggestions for introverted leaders:
- If you’re uncomfortable speaking up in meetings, email your ideas to senior leaders, where appropriate.
- Ask for a one-on-one meeting with your boss’s boss. Ask your boss to support the meeting and tell him/her that you know you’re quiet and you want to increase your exposure in the organization. Don’t go around your boss. This will never bode well. Simply demonstrate self awareness, commitment to your career and to the organization, and ask for your boss’s support. Prepare an agenda for the meeting that includes potential solutions to organizational challenges.
- Make sure you are meeting with your direct supervisor at least once a month. During the meetings share your most recent accomplishments. These meetings are an appropriate place to self promote. If you don’t tell your boss all the great things you’re doing, s/he may not know. And if s/he doesn’t know what you’re doing, she definitely can’t share your accomplishments with others. If your boss doesn’t schedule one-on-one meetings, ask for the meetings. That request can sound like, “I know how busy you are. I want to be sure you know what I’m working on and that I get your input on projects. Can we meet once a month to discuss?” There are more examples of how to get more face time with and feedback from your boss in chapters five and nine of my new book How to Say Anything to Anyone.
- Push yourself. If you’re asked to present at a meeting, do it, even if you’re uncomfortable. Make notes and practice out loud until you’re more comfortable.
- Ask for exposure to different types of work and departments in the organization. Cross train where appropriate. Offer to help on projects outside of your role. Meet people in other departments. Get to know more about what others do and how you can add value to their department and projects. This will demonstrate your commitment to your career and to the company, and will give you exposure to different people and parts of your organization.
In other words, push yourself. Your job will feel richer and you’ll be positioned to do more.