Introverts rock. People often think that a big, vibrant personality is needed to succeed in the workplace. That simply is not true. Often it is the quietest people who have the loudest minds.
The world is starting to awaken to the power of introverted leaders. When I wrote the first edition of The Introverted Leader: Building On Your Quiet Strength almost 10 years ago, it was before introversion was part of the global conversation.
Back then, people asked me if the title was an oxymoron. “How can you be a leader and an introvert?” One reporter writing on the subject told me that she couldn’t get any senior leaders to admit on the record that they were introverts. The bias against quieter leaders was pronounced. I continually had to explain how introvert traits such as listening, preparation, and calmness are qualities found in excellent leaders.
But today things are different. Introverts are finding their voice and owning the strengths of their natural wiring. When I ask introverted audiences to call out their strengths, there is no shortage of answers. Starting like a light rain shower, they say “observers, listeners.” And then a torrent emerges: “Writers, humorists, reflectors, calm, resilient,” and so on. You can literally see people sit up straighter in their seats as the list of introvert talents grows.
But I think we need to go further than equipping people with more skills to adapt to extrovert-dominant cultures. I see the next wave of the introvert movement about transforming cultures to become more inclusive. A key question is: how can organizations become more “introvert-friendly” so that introverted leaders can be recognized and thrive?
How do I create an introvert-friendly workplace?
As I have met with introverted leaders and organizations across the globe, three key workplace strategies have emerged for finding and engaging the next wave of introverted leaders:
1. Hire and promote introverts.
Set the stage for introverts to shine. When interviewing:
- Schedule adequate time between interviews so that you are not rushed when considering candidates.
- Keep the environment calm with lower lights and a quiet backdrop.
- Pause so introverts have the time to think before responding to your questions.
When making internal promotions, make sure you are not overlooking introverts! Research potential team members who are qualified but have not been especially vocal. Become an internal “introvert advocate.”
2. Encourage natural mingling.
Introverts tend to stay in their comfort zone, not seeing a need to socialize at work. But it's important for employees to socialize—doing so helps employees work together better by improving communication and building trust.
To encourage introverts and extrovertverts to mingle, it's all about offering options. Conversation pits, solitary spaces and public areas all are good options for introverts. You can set up community tables for low-key conversations and offer “huddle rooms” for conference calls and other meetings.
Steve Jobs, while working at Pixar, put two bathrooms in a central location to encourage employees to mingle. Employees tell their “bathroom stories” of creative ideas sparked while washing their hands next to a person they might not otherwise have spoken to. Organic, not forced conversations will spring up between introverts and extroverts this way.
3. Engage everyone in meetings.
Become aware of who is contributing and who is staying quiet—and encourage more diverse participation.
- Help introverts prepare by sharing agendas prior to the meeting or conference call.
- Use written Brainwriting and verbal brainstorming techniques to cater to the styles of both introverts and extroverts.
- Consider using small groups to tackle specific parts of a project so that introverts can build on their comfort with in-depth work with fewer people.
- Take breaks to give everyone time to recharge and reenergize.
These are but three of many ways to create an introvert-friendly workplace. Transforming your company culture to be more inclusive for introverts not only helps you find and advocate the next wave of introverted leaders—but can also contribute to more efficient teams by creating space for cognitive diversity. As we create more inclusive, diverse workspaces, we tap into limitless potential and creativity. Don't overlook it.