High-profile leaders like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg are well-known introverts and even American Republican-party presidential candidate Jeb Bush confessed he was “kinda introverted” in a recent interview with cable news channel CNN.
The technologies that Gates and Zuckerberg and promote have helped create has made it easier for introvert leaders to communicate effectively. E-mail, Facebook, Twitter and various messaging apps have made it easier to interact directly without the face-to-face element that many introverts often find uncomfortable.
Kathryn Hall, the UK-based CEO of business consultancy, Business of Introverts, said that she “wouldn’t be running a business if the internet didn’t exist now.”
“Connecting with clients on social media or sending them an email seems much more doable for introverts [like herself],” she said. “Just being able to do a bit more from behind the computer screen gives introverted people a lot more scope to connect in a considered way, and be heard, that doesn’t seem too scary.”
A dose of extroversion
But when you’re running a company or a team, technology can’t replace face-to-face contact altogether, Conant said.
“If you want to be a leader, you’ve just got to get out there and be with people,” he said. “Extroverts need to see you speaking in order to be inspired.”
This is the real challenge introvert leaders face everyday: how do you connect with extroverts while staying true to your authentic self? Conant is a big fan of finding an excuse to put yourself in situations that stretch your personality, but aren’t overwhelming.
For example, in his last role he wore a pedometer as an excuse to walk around the office. It was good low-impact way to meet people, without the pressure of a formal meeting.
Finding ways to build in the reflection period that introverts thrive on is also smart. When organising brainstorming meetings, allowing thinking time between the meeting and collectively making the decision makes sense, Kahnweiler said.
As for public speaking, well, even many extroverts find that tough. A good public speaking course can help, while Conant also recommends making sure you’re ultra-familiar with the material and have something to focus on, like slides or notes, to anchor you in the moment so you don’t lose track.
Julien Prest, French-born creator of introvert business blog Un Monde Pour Les Introvertis, previously led a team of 20 people. To get around his introversion and present himself more strongly as a leader, he said he played to certain strengths.
“I worked to reduce the number of big meetings I was in and have far more one-on-one talks, which I felt more comfortable with as an introvert,” he said. “I knew that I was not the best at big meetings — but people appreciated me for other skills, which I think are part of being an introvert, such as my ability to listen and understand other people’s problems.”
When he had to lead or attend a big meeting or make a presentation, Prest made sure he had plenty of rejuvenating quiet time to give him energy. It’s almost like a form of mindfulness meditation, which introverts are naturally attuned to. It’s a method Conant uses, as well.
“I always woke up early in the morning and had some quiet time before I would see my children for breakfast,” Conant said.
“Then, when I was CEO I had a two hour drive to work and would take those two hours to get ready for my day in the quiet of the car. It was like putting on my battle armour for the day — and when I did that it felt like I could face anything.”
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