How Managers Can Encourage Introverts and Turn Them Into Leaders

Introverts and extroverts have been at the center of fierce debates over the last few years. Some people decry introverts as too quiet to lead, while others say introverts make better leaders because they are considerate and focused. Equally passionate are advice columnists stating the measures managers should take for their introvert team members.

While presented with good intentions, some of these arguments do more harm than good in actually helping introverted workers. Here is what you really need to know about your introverted employees and how you can help them shine.

What Does it Mean to Be Introverted?

The concepts of introversion and extroversion aren’t new. They were first written about by Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Jung in the mid-twentieth century and then further popularized by the Myers-Brigg personality profiles. As a society, we are only just now starting to understand how these traits affect our behavior through life.

“Our lives are shaped as profoundly by personality as by gender and race,” says attorney Susan Cain, author of “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking.” “And the single most important aspect of personality…is where we fall on the introvert-extrovert spectrum. Humanity would be unrecognisable, and vastly diminished, without both personality styles.”

Even if you have an outgoing personality, you may very well be an introvert. Educational consultant Kendra Cherry stresses that being an introvert does not necessarily mean that you have social anxiety or are shy. “People who are introverted tend to be inward turning, or focused more on internal thoughts, feelings and moods rather than seeking out external stimulation,” she writes.

Essentially, in the world of introverts, being around other people drains their energy. They need time alone to recharge. Extroverts, on the other hand, get energy from being around other people. It is entirely possible that someone who seems to be outgoing and engaging is actually an introvert.

To further understand the differences between the two, writer and mental health advocate Brandi Neal explains how she channels her inner introvert to face challenges that extroverts handle easily. “As an introvert I process everything internally, and my narrator is non-verbal,” she writes. “Despite having an iPhone for five years I have never once asked Siri to do anything. I literally type everything into my phone.” Her article is a good place to start for exploring introvert and extrovert differences and understanding where you and your team members fall on the scale.


How to Create a Comfortable Workspace for Introverts

Working with introverts doesn’t mean creating safe bubbles for your staff, but rather creating a balanced workspace that doesn’t favor extroverted or introverted employees. Team members value each other more when they know why their peers are the way they are, Emma Otusajo at Introvert Whisperer writes. Setting up communication channels and learning from your staff can help you create a welcoming work environment.

For example, managers should ask their employees how they want to connect, says Morra Aarons Mele, author of “Hiding in the Bathroom: How to Get Out There When You'd Rather Stay Home.” Usually managers set the tone for communication in the office with emails, Slack, conference calls and daily meetings. They almost never ask employees how they want to communicate. Doing so can make staff significantly more comfortable.

The team at NOBL Collective actually suggests creating user manuals for employees where they can talk about their quirks or workstyles. This is an way for both introverted and extroverted employees to learn about each other. While one employee might put “please schedule a meeting, don’t just drop by my desk” in their manual, another might say “don’t talk to me until at least 9 am after I check email and have coffee.” This can serve as a team building exercise to get to know each other.  

Once you start taking small steps to include introverted employees, you can expand your efforts throughout the office. An open floor plan is an example of extroverted office design, writes Rosalind Cardinal, managing director of consulting firm Shaping Change. While working directly next to coworkers all day might be a dream for extroverts, it can be a nightmare for introverts.

However, changing this workstyle doesn’t have to be complicated. Companies with open floor plans can be more accomodating simply by creating quiet workspaces where introverts can get away from the collaboration of the open floor and work in silence.


How to Lead Meetings With Introverts in Mind

Meetings tend to be one of the biggest challenges for quieter employees. New employees or workers who aren’t very confident often have a hard time speaking up in a room full of louder team members.

In any given six-person meeting, two people are going to do more than 60 percent of the talking, says Jan Bruce, CEO of resilience training provider, meQuilibrium. This becomes even more significant in larger groups. Despite the fact that most meetings are dominated by a few people, teams thrive when there are more voices offering differing opinions.

As a manager, you can create room for quieter employees to speak up by letting everyone have space to speak. Over time, your more dominant employees can learn to give their quieter peers time to talk so you won’t have to serve as a referee during every meeting.

Susan RoAne, author of “How To Work a Room,” encourages leaders to take a three-pronged approach to managing meetings with introverts. These steps are:

  • Speak with introverts before or after meetings so they can share their opinions in a comfortable setting.

  • Give team members time to prepare for meetings with advanced agendas. This allows introverts to plan what they want to say and how.

  • Don’t single out introverts to speak in front of the group.

While you want to encourage other employees to speak up, there’s a difference between creating a space for differing opinions and directly putting employees on the spot to share their thoughts. One method is welcoming, the other is terrifying.

Many of the changes you make to include quieter employees in meetings can actually help your extroverted employees or new hires. For example, Professor Anya Johnson, senior lecturer at the University of Sydney Business School,  suggests turning brainstorming meetings into small groups activities, where employees pair off in twos or threes, then come together to share their ideas. This allows each person space to come up with ideas and feel heard, while the best ideas are presented to the group.


How to Turn Quiet Employees Into Leaders

The modern American workplace tends to look down on introverts or ignore them entirely. Executive leadership coach Leo Aspden cites a report that 65 percent of executives consider being an introvert as a barrier to becoming a great leader. Aspden says this is because introverts avoid broadcasting their achievements and calling attention to themselves, which means many of the great things they do go unnoticed compared to their more extroverted colleagues.

There are in fact several reasons why introverts can be strong leaders and an asset to any team, says Rhett Power, executive coach and author of “The Entrepreneur’s Book of Actions.” These include:

  • Introverts have high levels of concentration and planning, which means their ideas are well thought out.

  • Introverts can observe different points of view and serve as an objective party.

  • Introverts don’t push themselves forward without thinking about the risks and work involved. This makes them more realistic in their planning and execution.  

Unfortunately, because introverted team members are so focused on what they are doing and don’t push themselves to unrealistic workloads or goals, some managers assume that they don’t have enough drive or engagement to want to become leaders. “A quiet employee is not necessarily a disengaged employee,” explains Professor Karl Moore, author of “Effectively Working with Millennials.” “They might be processing some information that was just given to them or thinking about something, but they could be one of the more engaged members of your team.”

Giving your quieter employees opportunities to lead can help them shine, agrees the team at Workopolis. This shows that you see their value and can give them the confidence to move forward with a project. If you and your team have only worked with predominantly extroverted leaders, this could be a valuable learning experience for everyone.

Do What is Best for Introverted Employees

Even if you check off all of these boxes and try to make a space for introverted team members, the work environment might not be a good fit for some people. Introverts tend to respond better to working with planners rather than those colleagues who dive into a project feet first, says career strategist Heather Huhman. Introverts want to know what is coming up so they can prepare. You may find that they flourish in another department working for someone who thinks similarly to them.

Accommodating your introverted staff is as simple as asking their opinions and learning how they want to communicate. You don’t have to change your processes or remodel your office. You simply need to acknowledge that some people think differently, but also that everyone who is willing to work provides value to your workplace.

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