October 11th, 2011 | 6:00 am

Seven Tips for Leadership Success – for Introverts

filed under Industry Leaders

Confident business woman workingBy Laura C. Steele (New York City)

According to a survey conducted by TheLadders.com, 65% of 1,542 senior managers see introversion as an impediment to reaching higher management levels. That’s because more flamboyant, talkative, or exuberant extroverted employees can catch management’s eye, and tend to be well-known around the office.

In reality, however, “introverts can be better bosses,” especially in a dynamic and unpredictable environment, according to Adam M. Grant, an associate professor at University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School who studies this topic. Amid the uncertainty created by the increased pace of innovation and globalization, Grant adds, it’s probably better “to be an introverted leader now than at any previous time on record.”

Because they often have a very keen understanding about what works for them, introverts can be very effective in the corporate environment. Introverts often have an inner strength and personal commitment that allows them to succeed. Notable CEOs who are introverts include Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Steven Spielberg, Douglas Conant, former President and CEO of Campbell Soup Co., and Larry Page, co-founder of Google.

There’s no need for introverts to fight their own personality traits to get ahead. Here are seven expert tips for introverts on how to succeed as business leaders.

1. Excel at one-on-one interactions. Rather than trying to compete with others at a large company meeting, make specific efforts to meet in small groups or alone with key managers and employees.

2. Be a good listener. This comes easily to introverts, but to get the most out of listening, be sure to take notes, make regular comments, and follow-up later with any ideas you have regarding the conversation or topic. Also, pay close attention to language or body cues that more extroverted colleagues may miss.

3. Practice public speaking. Practice makes perfect, even for an introvert! You may never love speaking in front of a group, but public speaking is an important skill to possess. Consider a few coaching sessions, joining Toast Masters, or enlist your friends for help. Eye contact, good visual aids, and a little humor can go a long way.

4. Prepare, prepare. Extensive preparation enables introverted executives to conduct fruitful sessions with groups of coworkers. Introverts tend to do better when they “plan where to sit and stand,” then make well-rehearsed comments in a meeting’s first five minutes, says Atlanta leadership coach Jennifer B. Kahnweiler in her book, The Introverted Leader. Take the extra time to really understand your subject or position, and practice what you will say.

5. Pair up with an extrovert. An introvert and an extrovert can make a great business partnership, or presentation team. Each person can focus on the tasks where they excel, such as research, structure and creativity for the introvert, and presentation, sales or promotion for the extrovert. Understand each person’s natural ability and use these to your advantage. Each personality type can complement and support the other.

6. Go online. According to Wendy Gelberg, President of Gentle Job Search and author of The Successful Introvert, “Online networking plays to many of an introvert’s strengths; because it’s not in real time and it’s done through written communication, it gives people an opportunity to think deeply about what they want to say and choose their words carefully before replying. In addition, it’s possible to reach more people with the same effort than is typically possible with ‘live’ networking. For example, the ‘status bar’ on LinkedIn enables people to inform their entire network about something that’s professionally relevant. Tweets on Twitter function similarly.”

7. Recognize when it is time to re-charge. Introverts need regular time alone to function at their best. Plan your day to include restorative alone time, especially after busy meetings, presentations or a long commute on the subway.

In a recent article, The Atlantic noted, “Technology has steadily gained ground. What some describe as an always-on society is, in fact, becoming a Golden Age for introverts, in which it has become easier than ever to carve out time for oneself while meeting the needs of our extroverted friends. That’s a key distinction: we live in a time in which introverts can regularly mask their introversion if they so desire.”

Introverts who understand their strengths, and use them to their advantage, are just as likely to excel in the corporate environment as extroverts. Just make sure to pencil in some alone time each day.


  1. Rebecca Mott

    One type of leader is not perfect for every situation. When you look back at memorable U.S. Presidents, you will find a mix of both introverts and extraverts. I don’t believe that Teddy Roosevelt could have lead this country through the Civil War. Neither do I believe that Abraham Lincoln would have been able to lead our nation during the prosperous 1990’s.

    It does amaze me, though, how seemingly little thought is given to personality when selecting managers. Corporations tend to develop cultures around one leadership style, and are unlikely to promote people who do not fit that image. This is why I value dialogue about diversity. Diversity is not just about race or gender; it is about ensuring that everyone with potential has the OPPORTUNITY to develop.

  2. Beth Parker

    You tell us we don’t need to fight our personality traits, and then say, “Practice public speaking.” That seems like a huge contradiction to me.