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Rise of the introvert leader

Will the introverted leaders please stand up? The VUCA world needs you.

We know that the business and political worlds are increasingly moving in a state of VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous). Organizations must adapt to stay relevant and competitive, and they will need the right leaders to guide them.

Long brushed aside for their quiet, reflective nature, introverts may be very well suited for this new world.

The Conventional Leader

Traditionally, company leaders have been thought of as bold and charismatic, pushing their organizations forward with overflowing confidence and grand oration. These traits are associated with effective leadership. In fact, executives with these qualities are probably extroverts, considering extroverts are typically talkative, social and prone to action.

This conventional bias, that extroverts make the best leaders, is so ingrained in our culture that many introverts have no doubt been bypassed for leadership roles. A 2006 Harvard Business Review survey showed that 65% of senior executives perceived introversion as a barrier to these top positions. If in the past a prerequisite for being a boss was that one had to be an extrovert, it’s no wonder introverts were sidelined from management positions.

Introverts are usually not quick to speak, instead taking time to think over questions and choose their words carefully. They also tend to be on the quieter side. Introverts recharge their energy by spending time alone. They also come across as reserved, and prefer to research and analyze problems instead of engaging in purely social or sales-type jobs. Introverts are not attention seekers and can have difficulty promoting their strengths.

A New World Order Requires New Type of Leaders

The characteristics of the VUCA world have infiltrated the world of business. A barrage of external forces constantly affects organizations. These factors are dynamic, changing and then changing again. For companies, being adaptive in today’s world is paramount to success.

As it happens, several introvert qualities lend themselves not only to navigating such a chaotic world, but also to leading it.

1. Natural Analysts

As extroverts are working in the spotlight, introverts will be paying keen attention to situations as they unfold. Introverts are excellent observers, seeing issues from multiple perspectives. They have the ability to make connections between data points and see the whole picture.

In a quickly changing world, these qualities found in introverts help them to lead. Even their tendency to enjoy time alone can be beneficial. Introverts are able to spend long periods of time working on their own, allowing them to focus on complex issues until finding solutions.

2. Managers of Uncertainty

As has been noted, a critical theme of the VUCA world is uncertainty. With their tendency to analyze situations, introverts are great at building multiple paths of action and contingency plans.

They tend to put energy into doing research, which means plans will be well thought out. The persistence that characterizes introverts is a boon to them in a world that demands continuous observation and adaptation.

3. Good Listeners

Introverts are blessed with the skill of being good listeners. Being a capable people manager means being able to listen to various opinions and objectively digest different ideas.

Whereas extroverts may command attention and spend most of the time speaking, introverts pay close attention to the nuances of conversation. They openly seek other people’s perspectives and combine them with their own thoughts.

Professor Adam Grant, at the University of Pennsylvania, found that when supported by proactive employees, introverted bosses were able to deliver better results than their extroverted counterparts.

Introverts, be the new leader

In the era of VUCA, introverts may be even more suited for various leadership roles than their extroverted colleagues. To step up to a leading executive role, an introvert needs to pay attention to their executive presence and personal branding. There are several ways an introverts can work on their presence.

1. Manage Perceptions

The stage has already been set for the outgoing, boisterous leader, so introverts can’t let that notion interfere with their own potential. Introverts should find ways to equate quietness with analysis and introspection. Asking insightful questions is a great way to engage with people and improve executive presence and personal branding. With good questions comes discussion, providing an introvert with a venue for demonstrating assertiveness.

2. Get Outside the Comfort Zone

People’s personalities may not change much over the years, but certainly a person can stretch their personality in different directions. It’s important for introverts to find the right moments to get outside their comfort zones and expand their experiences. Venturing into new territory at opportune times is an effective way for introverts to leverage their strengths, while learning new skills.

3. Connect and Inspire

Introverted executives may not influence others through gregarious, outgoing personalities, but they do have a strong ability to show empathy and understanding. Being good listeners, introverts can naturally connect with their colleagues. An effective executive doesn’t always have to be out in front. An introvert can lead by building solid teams, developing their team members’ skills, and taking a holistic view on a team’s functioning.

Introverts have many qualities that can translate into being an effective leading executive in an organization, once given the chance. The times ahead will call for more introverts to rise up to these positions.

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