In his 2015 book, renowned climber Alex Honnold shared that in his early years he learned to belay himself whilst climbing to avoid social interaction with other climbers. Despite this, he managed to ascend to great heights — quite literally — and attain a position as one of the world's best climbers. His specialty? Free Solo Climbing — a perilous pursuit undertaken without the aid of ropes or human support.
A self-proclaimed introvert, Honnold's success gives solace and encouragement to others like him — myself included. As an introvert, striking up conversations with new people or engaging in casual talk does not come easily to me. Not by a mile. It is even worse in social events with lots of people I do not know.
For an introvert, energy comes from solitude and quiet moments, contrasted by extroverts who thrive on social interaction and collaboration. But my introverted nature does not confine me to solitude. Instead, I find myself leading others and managing teams and managers at work.
Being an introverted leader is not a contradiction. Rather, it is a unique lens through which one navigates the world. I believe introversion is a source of superpowers, built from the mechanisms we developed to cope and thrive. I am no psychologist. I draw from my personal experiences and observations of introverted leaders within my group. Please bare with me as this is – of course – anecdotal evidence.
Introverted leaders listen — often more than they speak. They carve out spaces in conversations instead of dominating them. Careful observation is their strength, making them adept at reading expressions and unwritten signals in a group setting, enhancing empathy and understanding.
Introverts excel at solitary learning, often perfecting their skills privately before demonstrating them to others. Moreover, they typically do not require frequent social interaction or approval from others to thrive.
Immune to the allure of hype, introverted leaders observe keenly and decide rationally. We break down, investigate, and focus on understand context and details before acting.
To avoid unexpected surprises, their focus of preparation ensures they are on top of their game. This meticulous nature is evident in their day to day work — practicing presentations, refining structure, anticipating follow-ups to avoid being put on the spot.
Finally, introverted managers often lead by example rather than charisma, inspiring team members through their work ethic, dedication, and thoroughness.
Being an introverted leader is not without its challenges. Taking a leap of faith or extending one's comfort zone often takes time and careful thought. I can think of a few examples over the last years where I was glad to have peers that pushed me in the – mostly right – direction.
When introverts hesitate to showcase their skills and achievements they are not (yet) confident about, they often shrouded in the shadows of their extroverted peers. In a healthy company culture, there are usually mechanisms in place to ensure that everyone's voice is heard. However, to advocate for oneself and one's team is a learnable skill.
Despite their deep care for existing relationships, introverted leaders may struggle to create new ones, often leading to sparse professional networks. Personally, I struggle with this a lot and need to remind myself that meeting people and extending my network is usually a rewarding experience.
As introvert I find social interactions draining at times and require time alone to recharge. Balancing the need to recharge with the constant demand for interaction in a managerial role can sometimes be a challenge. Within our workspace, we have created a balance that works well for me. There are quiet corners that allow for focus, which I greatly appreciate. However, in an expansive open-plan layout bustling with constant activity, I imagine I may find the setting somewhat overwhelming.
Navigating the world as an introverted leader can be seen as a challenge, but it also opens doors to profound opportunities. The temperaments often associated with introversion – listening, patience, observance, empathy, preparation, and the careful extension of comfort zones – are an invaluable asset to effective leadership. I am fortunate to work with numerous leaders who embody these qualities, and I am grateful for the opportunity to learn from them.
The key, perhaps, lies in recognizing and leveraging these inherent qualities, while also rising to meet the tasks that can be more demanding – expanding networks, advocating for oneself, and occasionally trusting in the unknown. Like Alex Honnold being introverted is not a barrier to reach the top. Rather, it may provide a different, equally valuable, route. I firmly believe, introverted leaders can reach impressive heights, fostering connections, acing preparations, and cultivating a leadership style that is deeply reflective and uniquely impactful. One thoughtful step at a time.
Published by Basti Tee
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