x

Managing introverts: A guide for team leaders

Topic: 
Series: 

What do Hillary Clinton, Barrack Obama, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, Microsoft CEO Bill Gates and Harry Potter author J K Rowling have in common?

They all identify as introverts, a fact which surprises those who mistakenly believe that introversion is code for shy and retiring; for shrinking violets who’ll avoid the limelight at all costs.

Studies attempting to put a number on the world’s introversion population cite figures ranging from 25 to 50%, while another concludes that 40% of CEOs are introverts. The exact figure isn’t important perhaps; what is, is that almost every workplace will have a healthy combination of introverts, extroverts and ambiverts (those who sit in the middle of the scale and are able to flex up or down depending on their environment and company). As a team leader, adapting your management style to get the best out of both personalities could be key to your team’s success.

As well as showing you some of the key ways you can adapt your approach to the different characters in your team, our guide will give you insight into true introvert behaviour and how to spot them amongst all the noise.

 

Spotting the introvert can be harder than finding Waldo.

Sophia Dembling, author of The Introvert’s Way: Living A Quiet Life In A Noisy World

 

Make your team’s physical working environment as flexible as possible

The modern open-plan office style of working is by far more suitable for the extrovert personality. Ringing phones, pinging emails and constant chatter are, to the extrovert, simply the background music to office life. For an introvert, they spell constant disruption and overwhelm of the senses, resulting in lost productivity and even stress.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking your introverted team members anti-social if they take themselves and their laptops off to a quiet corner – chances are they simply need to hear themselves think.

Let it be known that you’re flexible about seating arrangements and comfortable with employees finding quiet nooks and crannies, or working remotely on occasion – particularly if the project they’re working on requires deep focus. Solitude can actually boost an introvert’s productivity and creativity levels.

 

At the heart of it, introverts and extroverts respond really differently to stimulation. Introverts feel most alive and energised when they're in environments that are less stimulating - not less intellectually stimulating, but less stuff going on.

Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power Of Introverts In A World That Can’t Stop Talking

 

Inviting introverts to your brainstorming session? Plenty of notice and small groups will allow them to thrive

Extroverts are more inclined to ‘think out loud’, voicing their opinions as they occur to them – the good ones and the half-baked in equal measure. Introverts on the other hand are less keen on being put on the spot, preferring to mull over ideas in isolation before sharing them with intimate groups.

If you’ve both extroverts and introverts attending an impromptu brainstorm session, you’ll possibly end up only hearing from the extroverts – and in doing so you’ll only make use of 50% of the talent available. Introverts will respond best when given time to consider the issues that will be raised. Informing them of the topic the day beforehand will stand you a better chance of hearing from everyone in the room.

If your brainstorm session is likely to be a crowded affair, the introverts will generate more ideas if divided into smaller groups. Or you can try a roundtable approach, which gives everyone a voice, not just the loudest ones.

Introverts lead with quiet confidence.

Jennifer Kahnweiler, author The Introverted Leader: Building On Your Quiet Strength

 

Don’t assume your team’s introverts don’t have big aspirations

It’s often assumed that extroverts make the best leaders. Leaders, after all, need to be powerful communicators and foster meaningful relationships with individuals from all walks of life. But therein lies a huge myth about introversion.

“Let's clear one thing up: Introverts do not hate small talk because we dislike people,” Laurie Helgoe writes in Introvert Power: Why Your Inner Life Is Your Hidden Strength. “We hate small talk because we hate the barrier it creates between people.” Introverts, then, look for depth in their relationships with others, preferring meaningful conversations over general chitchat.

Introverts have many other skills that make them great leadership material too – they exude calm, they’re generally more effective writers, able to engage people with their written word, and are less likely to land themselves in hot water than their extrovert counterparts, thanks to their tendency to think first, speak later.

If there are introverts on your team, take time to understand their ambitions – don’t assume they don’t exist simply because they haven’t been voiced, or that your introvert’s quiet air means they’re not focused on rising to the top.

Chances are they’ve given their career path a great deal of thought, so start by simply asking the question. If you draw a blank, think about getting your entire team to take the career planning workbook and then hold follow up discussions with each member – it’s a great way to show that you care about their development and want to enable them along their career path.

A study by psychologist Russell Geen found that when given a complicated maths problem, introverts responded best with limited background noise, while extroverts responded best to higher levels of background noise.

 

Celebrate the differences in your team

There is no better or worse personality type; introversion, like other inherent character trait, is not something that can be ‘overcome’.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking introverts don’t like team work – in many ways they’re the hardest, most productive workers on behalf of the overall team goal.

If your team is a mixed bag of introverts and extroverts, a useful bonding exercise might be to bring the team together to discuss the different attributes each individual brings to the table and why each slice of the pie is so important to the team’s long-term success. Just be sure to send that agenda around in advance if you want to get the best out of the more introverted members of the group.

 

There's zero correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas.

Susan Cain

 

Dial up your listening

Introverts are great listeners; paying careful attention to the person they’re conversing with, preferring one-to-one time over group situations so they can really engage with the other. A manager then should view 1-2-1s as an opportunity to really understand what’s going on for your introvert employee.

Most of us think we’re better listeners than we really are – a survey of CEOs revealed that they placed ‘listening’ as their number one skill (over ‘sharing a vision’); their employees on the other hand rated ‘listening’ the most lacking of their leader’s skills.

Discover tips for how you can improve your listening skills in the everywomanNetwork workbook Powerful Workplace Communication.

Introverts thrive when an agenda is available in advance of the meeting. Like a shopping list at the grocery, it keeps the players focused and on track and the participants come to the meeting prepared.

Caroline Dowd-Higgins, Director of Career & Professional Development Indiana University Alumni Association

 

Watch a beautiful animation on the subject of extroversion in teams and offices, narrated by Susan Cain (author of Quiet: The Power Of Introverts In A World That Can’t Stop Talking).

 

The best, most inspirational leaders are the ones who make you feel great about yourself - big and powerful and heard.

everywomanClub member Mitzie Almquist

 

More on the everywomanNetwork

The Da Vinci career code: exercises for creative geniuses

Management styles uncovered: What’s yours?

Workbook: Managing upward with success

Quiz: Discover your thinking style?

8 Golden rules for running brilliant brainstorms