In leadership, every personality type brings something to the table. An introvert (like myself) can lead by example, focusing on the mission at hand and listening more intently to employees. Extroverts bring a different skill set: they can be the life of the party, motivating people with their enthusiasm and talkative demeanor.
In the past, working for both a startup and for a large corporation in a leadership role, my more subdued style worked against me. In a few cases, I was out of my league and probably should have handled things differently. Here are a few examples of how my personality wasn't a great fit--and how I probably should have responded.
1. Confronting a difficult employee
Over the course of about 10 years in management, I had my share of conflicts with employees on my team. In a few cases, I had to fire someone over a more serious issue. As many management books explain, confrontation is not an introvert's strong suit. My first response was usually avoidance. What I've learned since then is to confront early and decisively. I've heard before that total mutiny occurs because small issues were not addressed. As an introvert, it is better to confront something right away, even if it makes you uncomfortable.
2. Motivating with enthusiasm
Introverts can motivate other people to action, but in most cases it won't be by stirring pep talks or social gatherings. I remember one team outing that involved playing disc golf at a local park. I had a hard time getting everyone to play more than one or two holes. My personality was just a bad fit. Instead, I could have motivated people with a funny written story or by hiring a local film studio to make movie about our team goals. Or, I could have delegated that disc golf outing to a team member who did have more enthusiasm. Or maybe focused more on one-on-one motivation.
3. Giving a presentation
I have many stories of epic fails when it came to giving a business presentations. As I've learned over the years, I'm a whiz at written communication but giving animated and engaging lectures in front of a few hundred people is not my thing. Even in recent years, as I've been asked to speak at conferences or do interviews about technology, I end up turning down those opportunities. It would have been perfectly fine for me to take a back seat and let someone who has more oratory gifts run a presentation.
4. Championing a cause
Here's one that might seem a little odd. After all, leaders are primarily chartered with leading the vision and motivating others to succeed. The problem for any introvert is the word "championing" because it implies a higher level of enthusiasm. I wish I had spent more time clarifying the cause, or writing out the cause, or communicating the cause one-on-one with employees. Instead, I tried to "champion" the goal of the team like I was a basketball coach at a high school game. Bad idea in the end.
5. Letting something fail
There's a reason the word introvert is so similar to the word introspection. Introverts are analytical to a fault, constantly trying to figure out if something is working or not. They're also incredibly loyal and tend to want to keep breathing life into something even if it is dying. I've always admired how an extrovert can start something, pump it up, then let it fail quickly and decisively. In leadership. it's often a good idea to let a project fail, learn from the mistakes, and try again with a fresh vision.
6. Understanding the crowd
The classic difference between an introvert like me and an extrovert is when we walk into a crowded room. I usually try and meet one or two people and engage in a deep conversation. An extrovert wants to meet everyone. That's an important lesson when it comes to crowd dynamics and understanding group trends. Even though there is wisdom in the crowd, that doesn't mean I'm the best point person to do the research. However, I may be the best person to analyze what all of the extroverts have found out about the crowd. At least they know their names.