Leadership Challenges for Effective Introvert Leaders

– Posted in: Executive Coaching Introvert Coaching Leadership Coaching Performance Coaching

Kathy Daniels appears to be an outgoing powerhouse CEO of a mid-size stockbrokerage firm in Chicago. Little does anyone know is that Kathy is an introvert who takes advantage of using her unique characteristics to demonstrate her self-confidence to her employees and whenever she gives presentations outside her organization? Maybe not a high-powered executive like Microsoft’s Bill Gates, former CEO Brenda Barnes of Sara Lee, or Warren Buffett, Kathy is in with a great group of introverted leaders.

Typically, when people think of leaders, they think of extroverts since they are outgoing, assertive, give speeches and presentations and is someone who has self-confidence. No one thinks of an introvert fitting in as a leader- until recently. Introverts are beginning to get out of their comfort zone and take advantage of the unique characteristics they possess.

Whether you know of an introvert as a “Quiet Leader” or “Quiet Boss”, you need to look at introverts in a different light than you have before. It has been estimated that there are between 40-70% of Fortune 500 companies that are lead by introverted CEOs. Accordingly, during the last several years of the economic downturn, these organizations had a higher productivity level and profit rate than those organizations run by extroverts. “Their leadership success is in part due to their ability to encourage pro-activity from their employees,” says Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking.

“Outgoing personality traits are often associated with top corporate roles, but new research suggests businesses miss out when they fail to find and promote executives with more understated styles…”(Wally Bock, Introverts can be Great Leaders). Some introverts believe that in order to be considered for a leadership position, they have to push themselves to project a more extrovert quality. This expands their comfort zone. For some introverts, they get use to it and do very well in their newly found leadership job. For others, they believe they have to get use to getting comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Introverts possess several crucial qualities that make them especially well-suited for powerful positions. For years, Introverts get passed over for leadership roles, even though new research shows they can actually get better results as leaders. Now research shows that introverts can be leaders and do a better job than what most people think. Talent managers should, therefore, not overlook introverts when identifying candidates for leadership positions; rather they should recognize what introverts can offer.

Research conducted by Professors Adam Grant at Wharton, Francesca Gino from Harvard Business School, and David A. Hoffman of UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School showed that introverted leaders often deliver better results. They’re better at letting proactive employees run with their creative ideas, while extroverts can unwittingly put their own stamp on things and not realize that other people’s ideas aren’t being heard.

Even though introverts already have their specific personality and work preferences, the following are critical ingredients for introverts to succeed as a leader.

Quiet Achievers

Quiet leadership isn’t just for those at the top, but applies across the spectrum, from the leader in all levels of management. Introverted leaders quietly command respect of those around them and draw people in. Most introverts make statements to others that are thought-provoking.

When we think of leadership, we think of the commanding, visionary person who takes charge in a time of crisis and leads his company to victory when all seems lost. Although this type of leader is what we think of most, there’s another form of leadership that ultimately may be more effective at achieving high performance. It’s called “quiet leadership”.

Great Listeners

Introverts tend to be better listeners, even though they do not reveal much about themselves. They listen to what others say and respond appropriately. Most introverts in this position are proactive instead of reactive because they think first and then respond second.

For introverts to succeed the challenges that come with being a leader, the find the recipe for success that fits for them through their unique characteristics and especially with the help of their personality and work preferences. These two alone give an introverted leader the impetus to become the leader they prefer to be.

Introverted leaders tend to listen more carefully and are more open to ideas, thoughts, opinions and suggestions. This helps when they socialize with others. Introverts prefer to observe others most of the time. This is partly how they get to know other people. They absorb and reflect on what they hear.

A professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts says that introverts do better when managing a team of proactive members. The personality of the leader must complement the group they are managing, e.g., a dynamic and charismatic leader (extravert) may work better with “passive” members rather than with a highly functioning group whose enthusiasm may be dampened by an extravert’s enthusiasm and tendency to frequently override their ideas.


Having a crystal clear thought with regard to their vision and it gets carried through by their employees. Introverted leaders get better results from their extroverted employees.

Typically, introverts are more comfortable relating to others one-on-one instead of in large groups. When they do speak in front of large groups, they prepare ahead of time. This helps them focus on what they want to say and their self-confidence is more relaxed.

During networking events, introverted leaders prepare ahead of time with what they want to talk about with others. The preference is to ask open-ended questions instead of close-ended ones.

Making sure that you say exactly what you want to say, introverts think first before saying anything or taking any action. This is especially true when it comes to making any type of decisions. Introverts prefer to think first, weigh the facts and then make their decision. Introverts prefer to communicate in writing instead of talking.

Many introverts prefer to prepare before going into meetings. Typically, they do not like being put on the spot. Introverted leaders know this will happen at times and they prepare for these times. As much as possible, introverted leaders make meetings as short as possible. This is because some meetings take too long and many introverts get drained and so do their employees.

Introverted leaders display the unique ability of inspiring and motivating their employees to action. They convey confidence especially in things they are passionate and interested in.

Creating Extraordinary Results

Focusing in on outcomes gets more done as a result they get results. Many introverted leader make an effort to talk with their employees by walking around and asking employees for input or other questions. They act on what they head from others. In most respects, introverted leaders empower employees to be as creative and innovative as possible and to work out any problems and challenges with other co-workers.

Introverts and extroverts are both capable of doing the same work. The difference lies in the ways they approach their tasks. Quiet, introverted leaders are committed to achieving the goals they set out to do. Introverted leaders need to focus more on their strengths. This includes their analytical, problem-solving and listening skills. In a combined package, introverts are able to take advantage of their unique characteristics which allow them to become bold and outgoing with sometimes a powerhouse reputation of getting things done, and getting extraordinary results.

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