At the very beginning of this series about introverts I described the basic difference between introvert and extrovert “Introverts: Who Are They?”. Last week I talked about how introverts survive in today’s corporate environment “Introverts: It Is All A Game”. Today, I would like to dig deeper into how to lead a team of people comprised of both introverts and extroverts (as is usually the case) and how to do it when you are an introvert yourself. At the beginning, I strongly believe that it is easier for introverted person to lead these mixed teams than it would be for extroverted person. You as an introvert have one advantage, one skill that is not easy to learn: you know how to listen and you can adapt your strategies based on the feedback you are hearing or seeing more easily. And since leadership is a rather broad topic let me focus just on the basics.
Setting the goals and following up
The very first difference in how to handle introverts and extroverts comes as early as in setting the tasks and following up. While the actual task may be described the same way chances are that extrovert will ask for clarifications immediately on the spot while introvert may need some time to think it over in quiet and will have questions later on. This is especially applicable when it is being done in a group setting. When you combine this with the fact that introverted person will be easily discouraged from asking if you are not approachable, you can get into trouble. The best thing for you to do is to follow up regularly to create opportunities for questions.
One-on-one follow up is anyway a great way how to manage your team. If it is difficult for you to talk to bigger teams then create opportunities for you to meet the members individually or in smaller groups. This will give you a chance to act more naturally in introvert-friendly settings.
When having a meeting with your team you may find it difficult to “be in charge” and talk all the time. One of the tricks here is to make a virtue of your ability to listen and give others opportunity to learn and lead. You can, for example, decide to have a rotating meeting moderator who will be forced to speak more and keep the structure of the meeting while you can listen more and have more time to prepare for your contributions.
Any corrective or developmental feedback is better provided in private regardless of personality type. For most introverts the difficult part is figuring out how to start a difficult discussion and the body language they exhibit. You may know what you want to say, but it is equally important, if not more, the way you say it and how you behave while saying it. You need to project confidence and be firm in your assessment and the next steps. I love the 3F acronym (Fair, Firm, Focused). You need to be fair in your dealings to keep open mind and ability to listen. You need to be focused, again trait that should come naturally to introverts. And you need to be firm. Good rehearsal would help you polish your talk and feedback from a trusted friend, some role-play, or practicing on video can help you identify quirks in your body language that may betray the message. Make sure you focus on what you want to say, you look the other person in the eyes, you keep your voice leveled, you don’t fiddle with your hands, and you sit straight but comfortable. These are the basics that should get you through. And if the other guy gets emotional and aggressive? Have one or two sentences ready for this eventuality as a way how to end the meeting gracefully and quickly. You want to treat people with respect and dignity and you expect them to do the same. The moment someone starts shouting you need to calm him down before continuing and if you know that you cannot handle it then have a way out.
Curiously enough this might be sometimes even more difficult than providing corrective feedback. If you are an introverted leader you need to recognize that people need different levels of encouragement. In my experience introverts prefer more individual and private recognitions while extroverts want to bask in the spotlight on the big stage (exaggerating here a bit). Getting people stand up on company meetings and list all their achievements and even ask them to say something witty is a great way to recognize extroverts, but it would traumatize introverted person. And vice versa, heartfelt thank you in a small round of closest team mates is a great way to recognize achievement of introverted person while it would feel rather an empty gesture to his extroverted friend.
Leading by example
For a manager it is important to being heard. When you say something you want to make sure the message is received. I have met many people who seemed really quiet at the first glance but when they spoke everyone listened. Why? Because they spoke only when they had something to say. Everyone knew that and so everyone listened as there was a piece of wisdom coming. The lesson here is that don’t force yourself to speak for hours when you have content for minutes and when you know you don’t have the skills for long speeches.
And what is the shortest way to be seen as a leader even when you are not the loudest person in the room? You lead by example. No need for many words and being in the spotlight. Just get in the trenches with your team, be one of them and the leadership won’t feel so out of your realm of comfort. And luckily enough it will be seen as a sign of strength of your leadership. You show that you are not afraid to get your hands dirty with the actual work.
Dealing with the chatty ones
How do you find your voice when chatting with a fast talking extrovert? How do you ensure he doesn’t run you over with a fast talk and animated body language? You reset the rules of the game. You demonstrate that it is ok to pause and be quiet for a minute. A simple pause followed by a short statement with question that needs the others to think can get the discussion to a pace you can cope with. Of course your body language and tone of voice needs to send the same message. You need to look like there is no rush to finish the whole conversation in thirty seconds.
And what if you encounter the endless orators who never know when to stop their story? Again, for an introvert it may be rather difficult to stop other people from talking and so you can use a simple time management trick. Keep reminding them what time it is. “Let us discuss this topic, I have 15 minutes to do it.” and as you go through it bring it up again and again “OK, so here we are, we have 10 more minutes, how do you want to use them?” In these situations it is completely acceptable to interrupt the person if he starts moving to unrelated and irrelevant topics and put him back on the right track. If he is your direct report you probably want to make this very explicit and define this as a development need for that person. You define that the person needs to be able to go more to the point, don’t get distracted by side-topics and focus on the point he is training to make.
What is the key lesson? Keep in mind that most of the things you perceive as weaknesses and obstacles for you to become a strong leader can be nicely turned around to become your strengths. Just spend some time to think about it and try it out.
Twitter type summary: “Introverts make great leaders. It is all about confidence and relying on your strengths while finding workarounds for your weaknesses.”
How do you lead others if you are introverted person? Do you distinguish between leading introverts and extroverts? What are your strategies?