It might be hard to remember now, but back a few years ago, talking about introverts really wasn’t a thing. Then along came Susan Cain’s groundbreaking book Quiet, extolling the virtues or the quieter among us and urging leaders to make better use of their underappreciated talent.
Soon a tsunami of articles was explaining the horrors of open-plan offices and a million and one things managers could do to stop annoying their introverted employees. All of this was useful, but it can also be overwhelming.
If it’s beyond your power to start putting up office walls or read every one of these articles, is there anything you do as a manager today to start better supporting introvert employees? The answer, as Cain has previously explained, is sure, plenty of things. But in a wide-ranging Q&A with TED curator Chris Anderson on the TED Ideas blog recently, Cain explained that one simple action stands head and shoulders above the rest as the best way to get started.
Quiet does not equal unambitious.
While redesigning your office to be more introvert friendly might be a project, supporting just one of your quietly talented team is easy to get started on today. Which is why Cain advises leaders to "pick one person you know in your company who you would describe as super-talented but who is not a so-called natural leader" and ask yourself, "What could you be doing to advance that person?"
Cain goes on to explain in greater detail just how you can start nurturing a less outgoing, but highly performing team member:
Very often, the best step is to just sit down with that person and let them know how much you’ve noticed and appreciated what they’ve been contributing, and find out from them what their wildest dream career looks like one or three or five years from now. People assume that the quiet person is gonna be less ambitious, and so you might be shocked to find out that if you really encourage the dreamy version of their career, it actually looks quite bold.
Then, once you know what it is, you can, together, be plotting with them: 'Well, how can you get from A to B?' And how can you help them draw on the strengths they already have? And where are the places that they can, little by little by little, step outside their comfort zone?
The glory of this advice is that it’s actionable, humane, and also likely to yield big benefits. Some of the world’s most celebrated leaders once doubted they had the people skills to rise, but through support and hard work, climbed to become incredible performers. Wouldn’t you like to have a few of these soft spoken achievers on your team? Getting them there all starts with a simple conversation you can have today.