In crises, many leaders listen less because they believe immediate action is required. Usually, they are acting from a mindset that using techniques associated extroversion is the only way to get ahead. Unfortunately, those leaders often forget that employees, the people actually taking the action, are key to navigating challenges. During the coronavirus pandemic, when many people are working from home and communicating through screens, adopting the traits of an introverted leader can help.
To build team camaraderie, leverage introverted tendencies to inspire audiences and lead your team to incredible solutions.
I can hear you rolling your eyes. “Inspire audiences? Please.”
But effective public speaking can inspire people. Moreover, a speech’s effectiveness comes down to its delivery. Public speaking isn’t a conversation; it’s a performance. This is why introverted actors like Tom Hanks can take on extroverted roles without changing who they are. Introverts may be quieter in conversation, but a conversation is different from a spoken performance.
Whether you’re naturally introverted or extroverted, no single set of traits will make you the best leader. Instead, it’s integral you’ll need to find a balance. If you are more extroverted, use these tips to adjust your management techniques. If you are naturally introverted and finding yourself in a leadership position, try practicing these habits consistently.
Stop developing answers and ask more questions
People spend the same amount of time preparing for a meeting as they do actually participating, according to 37signals cofounder Jason Fried. This means that if you’re leading a one-hour meeting with 20 people, they’ve likely spent 20 hours collectively preparing for it. As you explore how to use introversion to your advantage, plan to capitalize and tune into your team’s efforts. Spend your own prep time coming up with questions that will prompt everyone to discuss what they’ve been working on.
When I adopted a “questions first” philosophy, my leadership abilities immediately evolved. I used to spend a lot of time coming up with solutions by myself before meetings, but leading with questions took less effort than leading with answers. I spent less time preparing and more time responding. The technique shifted the responsibility away from me, which helped position me as more of a listener and left me feeling less depleted.
Posing questions helps others collectively solve problems. When people brainstorm their issues, they’re more likely to take action without coercion or reminders. Don’t ask questions that are answers in disguise, such as, “Have you turned the computer off and then back on?”
Not sure how to phrase your questions? Start with the “what” or “how” questions. For instance, if your team is struggling to connect the dots ask, “What would you do if you could wave a magic wand?” The question allows a group to think big and potentially arrive at the “aha” moment on their own.
A primary advantage of introverted leaders is that they tend to say very little. Go with your instincts in this regard and prioritize clarity over volume when speaking. Tell yourself, the fewer words, the better.
Extroverts frequently give a lot of instructions, immediately going into “Let’s do A, B, C, and D!” This type of intensity can dilute the message and confuse listeners. If you purposefully select what you say, your communication is more effective.
Furthermore, prepare for important conversations by writing down lists of questions. I often have a few ready to prompt objective, innovative responses. At the same time, make sure you’re not speaking too little.
When I want to speak during a meeting, I double-check to make sure the message adds value and guides the conversation along, versus bogging it down. Teams who are led by engaged leaders are 39% more likely to be engaged, too. If you’re actively listening in conversations and speaking conscientiously, your team will respond in kind.
Remain perceptive and embrace silences
Why do introverts make good leaders? They spend energy observing what’s happening around them. Instead of blurting out first impressions, they mull them over so they can address the heart of the matter. To lead as an introvert, practice becoming more perceptive.
For extroverts, the trick is being comfortable with silence. Resist making snap judgments or talking through lulls in discussion. Practice resisting the urge to speak by counting to five to see whether someone else speaks first. When everyone has a chance to talk, you’ll hear everyone’s opinions. Feel free to call on people who haven’t shared their thoughts (they might just need a nudge from you). When I tried this, I found that my responses became more comprehensive, and they were built on the initial thoughts of others.
Introverts lead people to their own solutions, whereas extroverts are more likely to ask leading questions that push people toward the solutions they want them to enact. The former approach encourages engagement, which is why introverts make good leaders. Improving the way you communicate with your team increases efficiency in the workplace, ferments trust, and creates a more professional, individual image for each team member, according to career coach Hallie Crawford.
Extroverts may seem like ideal executive candidates, but introverts have the makings of great leaders. They’re able to calmly guide their teams and help them reach new levels of innovation and understanding. No matter the state of the world or your natural personality, you will benefit by adopting the traits of an introvert when leading.
Krister Ungerböck is a leadership communication speaker and author. He is the founder of the global Talk SHIFT movement, which transforms frustrating communication through simple, powerful, and practical changes to our words.