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Leading as an Introvert
You mean I have to talk to people to lead them? Ugh.
Introverts are often overlooked as leaders, but introverts have many ways they can effectively influence others and be exceptional leaders.
1) Lead from your wheelhouse.
Most introverts tend to be good with details and process. Share your knowledge and skills. Develop quality control standards, templates others can follow, and manuals that lay out the processes. Teach others about areas in which you have expertise. And keep learning, so you can grow your skills further and have more to contribute.
2) Communicate more.
May introverts don’t want to open their mouths until they know they have all the facts and that what they say will be complete and correct. They don’t want to say anything that might be… wrong. Being wrong in front of witnesses is horrifying. For many non-introverts, however, the perception is that the introvert has nothing to add to the conversation—that they have no opinion, no knowledge, no experience, no insights to share, and that they are just waiting around for someone else to take charge and tell them what to do. This does not inspire confidence. You don’t need to have all the answers, but give people some insight on your process, and it will raise their confidence in you. Instead of saying nothing, you can say, “We’ll need to check on the costs of materials and check the team’s availability before we can sign on.” Or “I can give you an answer right now, or I can give you the RIGHT ANSWER after I’ve run the numbers this afternoon.”
Yeah, I know that “it’s just quicker to do it myself.” And “I don’t know if they will get it right, and it’s too important to trust them with it” But as a leader, one of the most effective influences you can have is to grow the competency of your staffers. Grow their competencies, so you can trust them to get it right. Give them a model or a template when you assign a task; ask if they have any questions (and answer those questions); discuss required parameters, and then schedule a check-in for them to show you their “first draft.” This “first draft mentality” is a great one, because “it’s not wrong; it’s just not finished yet.” It keeps people motivated, including the introvert leader who only reluctantly delegated the thing in the first place. Grow your staffers incrementally—give them something that expands their comfort zone, rather than taking them out of their comfort zone.
4) Provide feedback during the process.
Technically, feedback is a form of communication, but it’s worth specifically pointing out two components of introvert feedback. First is the “no news is good news” mentality—if nothing is going wrong, the introvert may feel there’s no need to give any feedback. This is a morale killer, because it makes staffers feel like the introvert doesn’t know or doesn’t care about what they are doing. Instead, give frequent, concise updates when things are going right: “The project looks good so far! Any questions about your next steps?” Second is that negative feedback should not just be “red pen” markups of everything they have done wrong—remember that “first draft” mentality, and focus on showing them how to get it right, e.g., “This part won’t work when we add <factor>, but we can use <method> to make it compatible.”
Introverts gain confidence with practice, so start small with any of these, and then grow your influence over time.