In my last blog post, I shared why I love working in the field of social media. (I also shared what I don’t love so much, but let’s focus on the positive!)
In short, I said that “…it fits my personality. I like connecting people, but I’m an introvert. It’s not as easy for me to work a room as it is a chat-room! Social media has allowed me to connect with a wide range of people that I might not have connected with otherwise - and across the globe! I also have the opportunity to employ my writing skills, which has always been my passion.”
The unique challenges and opportunities of being an introvert have been on my mind lately. Recently, I visited a client's Vistage group meeting when my group's meeting was canceled due to winter weather. While attending, I had the opportunity to meet some new folks. Beside me sat a man who, like me, is the classic self-proclaimed introvert. He partnered with me during an opening exercise in which we were asked to share ways we have inspired others. I recall saying something along the lines of how my audience members have said I’ve inspired them because of my transparency and openness. He asked me, “How does an introvert display transparency?”
The simple answer: I’m a writer.
The more in-depth answer…I’ll write it for you below!
What Is an Introvert and Do They Lack What It Takes to Lead?
A classic trait of introverts is that we are thinkers. In a recent Gallup Strengths Assessment, my results identified one of my top strengths as being “analytical.” As Susan Cain says in the book, Quiet, introverts are “quiet and cerebral.” Research from Carl Jung (1921) explained that introverts are drawn to the inner world of thought and feeling. While some people might consider this a drawback, in actuality it isn’t a bad thing. It means we typically think before we act. However, earlier research on personality traits seems to indicate that introverts cannot excel as CEOs because they lack assertiveness.
So, does that make me an ineffective company leader?
Why Assumptions About Introverts and Extroverts Often Fail
I have a friend who describes herself as a “situational extrovert.” I believe that’s a great way to capture the gray area that makes up our personalities.
Cain describes four quadrants of personality types:
- Calm extroverts
- Anxious (or impulsive) extroverts
- Calm introverts
- Anxious introverts
This explains why someone who is shy isn’t necessarily an introvert, and why someone who appears socially confident isn't necessarily an extrovert. Consider this line from Cain’s book, “…in leadership positions, they [introverts] execute with quiet competence.”
I prefer to write rather than speak. It gives me time to analyze my position and formulate my thoughts. I’ve always described myself as a calculated risk-taker. It’s that drive to internally assess situations that defines me as an introvert. However, risk-taking is not traditionally associated with introverts, which further proves that boxing individuals into a single personality type isn’t easy nor accurate.
Transparency, Leadership, and Introverts
Now let’s revisit the original question from the gentleman at the Vistage group meeting, “How does an introvert display transparency?”
Here’s how I do that:
I am truthful.
In my role as a leader, I am open and honest about our company’s financials with our entire team from the top-down. I communicate when we have a big lead in the queue and when we are losing a client. I let people know what’s going on.
Also, I am upfront about team members’ performance—when it’s lacking and, more importantly, when they meet or exceed expectations. In a recent quarterly check-in with our of contractors, she said, “It’s nice working with somebody who is so transparent. You always know where you stand.”
I’m also accepting of feedback from the team. They teach me a lot – and they keep me on my toes!
I should make it clear that I’m careful not to overshare. Oversharing is a trait of someone who has no filter. It’s not necessary to verbalize every bit of minutia to be transparent; a transparent leader can maintain confidentiality while building trust.
There’s nothing overly emotional or unsteady about being transparent. It merely requires being open about who we are and what we stand for. It’s answering questions honestly when asked. It’s sharing your story in a way that’s your own. And I believe it’s about inspiring others who feel they don’t have a voice or know how to project that voice. I’m delighted to have found a career that allows me to do that.
Introverts Are Everywhere—Including in Leadership Roles
One-third to one-half of all Americans are introverts, according to various studies. That makes the likelihood high that some of the managers and executives you know and work with are introverts. I’ll bet if you look for subtle queues in how people lead, you might pick up on some introvert qualities. But as I said earlier, never assume someone is an outright introvert or extrovert. We humans are complex beings—and that’s what makes us so versatile and capable.
Are you an introvert and a leader? I’d love to hear about how you’ve harnessed the strengths and overcome the challenges of being an introvert in a leadership role. Leave a comment and share your story!