I have a friend that has moved quickly up the ranks of a major corporation. Despite his somewhat speedy transition to jobs with increasing responsibility, back-to-back performance reviews that hit the far exceed mark, and stellar leadership reviews from his team and customers, some of his “mentors” continue to advise him to “speak up more”. Despite a 20-year track record of successful results, my friend continues to receive this feedback which he continues to find confusing.
Okay. It’s no secret my friend is a bit of an introvert. He doesn’t feel compelled to fill silence with small talk just to hear himself speak. Nor is he a pseudo-intellectual who wants to dazzle you with his brilliance by spouting off facts and data he memorized. He’s just a very intelligent man with a wealth of knowledge and experience that is cushioned by a strong work ethic and a warm personality. He treats people the way he wants to be treated, and understands the importance of feedback…whether it’s positive or about an area that can be improved upon.
So does this make him less than a leader?
Having been a product of the corporate world for more than 24 years, I remember all too well the colleagues with the big titles who sat at the executive table and raised their voices (loudly) to make a point. Sometimes a fist would bang or a door would be slammed as they stormed out of meetings. Often a caustic remark was interjected as the decibels increased.
I’ll give you, that kind of behavior doesn’t speak well of the corporate culture, but these were the individuals identified as the leaders or high performers. That aside:
Did this make the individual a better leader? Did they get the results they wanted? Did it help the organization move forward or enable a team member to innovate or achieve on their own? I can confidently say, “No. It did not.”
I thought of my friend, and others I have met along the way, who fall under “the curse” of being on the quiet side as I read this article. I thought I would share so that we’re all reminded that sometimes introverts make the best leaders:
There’s good reason why 40% of executives describe themselves as introverts. From broker Charles Schwab to Avon chief Andrea Jung, “innies” possess these traits of quiet leadership:
1. They think first. Even in casual conversation, leaders learn by listening. They realize that their authority alone makes them visible, so they use their calm demeanors to make a statement. Just one thoughtful comment in a meeting can move a group forward.
2. They run deep. Leaders delve into ideas. Deborah Dunsire, a physician and president of a biopharmaceutical company, schedules walk-around time. “I would say, ‘Hey, what is keeping you up at night? What are you working on? Where can we improve?’
3. They exude calm. Because they are low-key, introverted leaders project reassurance and confidence in times of crisis. One executive tells himself before networking events, “I can do anything for 30 minutes.”
4. They write it down. Comfort with the written word helps leaders explain the reasons for their actions and also documents those actions.
5. They enjoy solitude. Introverts recharge by spending time alone. Regular time-outs fuel their creativity and decision-making. During high=pressure periods, this helps them stay reflective, not reactive.
Martin Schmidler, VP at a food service company, tells his people he needs time to absorb what he learns, and he is clear on how and when he’ll get back to them. He consistently follows through.
- Adapted from “Why Introverts Can Make the Best Leaders,” Jennifer Kahnweiler, Forbes.com.