Not many people know that I am, indeed, an introvert.
At parties, I'd rather stand in the corner, chatting quietly with a close buddy, than work the room.
However, as cloud accounting company Xero's president, standing in the corner and watching isn't an option. It's my job to rally the troops, motivate, and push for results.
To get the job done, I often act the part of an extrovert. And it seems I'm not alone. In fact, I'm in esteemed company. Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, Google co-founder Larry Page, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, and business giant Warren Buffett have all either admitted to being an introvert or possess many defining qualities.
And I don't think this is a wild coincidence. Gates was once asked how he managed to be such a trailblazer in an extroverted world when he was an introvert.
Here was his response:
"Well, I think introverts can do quite well. If you're clever, you can learn to get the benefits of being an introvert, which might be, say, being willing to go off for a few days and think about a tough problem, read everything you can, push yourself very hard to think out on the edge of that area. Then, if you come up with something, if you want to hire people, get them excited, build a company around that idea, you better learn what extroverts do, you better hire some extroverts, like Steve Ballmer I would claim as an extrovert, and tap into both sets of skills in order to have a company that thrives both as in deep thinking and building teams and going out into the world to sell those ideas."
Learning to act the part of the extrovert is something I've been working on for most of my career. But I've been sure to not let go of some of my introverted tendencies.
You see, introverts are usually deep thinkers, and when they do speak, their words are considered and deliberate.
Here are a few techniques I've used over the years to play the extrovert while not losing my introverted qualities.
My quietness has been previously misunderstood as being aloof or arrogant. When you're an introvert, you need to be very aware of how your silence and need for personal space can come across to others. While it isn't in the nature of an introvert to reach out or be the center of attention, in the business world running teams and building relationships with clients means you have to have an extrovert persona.
Act the part
To lead teams, build businesses, and stand on a stage in front of thousands of people, I have worked hard to act the part of an extrovert. By compartmentalizing this part of my life, I've been able to hold on to the introverted qualities that have played a big role in getting me where I am today. I know that if I feel like I'm being extremely intense and excited, it comes off as an extrovert at rest. So when I'm onstage or giving a speech to my team, I consciously turn up the dial knowing if an extrovert did the same it'd probably be unbearable for the audience.
Know what you're talking about
There's a piece of advice I often dish out to my kids, one being an introvert like me and the other an extrovert: Be subject-matter deep and you'll never have to worry about what you say.
Being an introvert often means you place a premium on thinking time. Use that to your advantage: Become a subject expert, read widely. Knowing your stuff makes playing the extrovert much easier. It shows you're passionate about the topic or industry and can also really help you articulate your message.
Join a team to lead a team
Even as an adult, playing a team sport can really help your social and business skills. Introverts usually form close, deep relationships, and working toward a common goal can fuel that process. Being on a team reminds you how to play as part of a team. It also shows you that it takes a range of skill sets working together to win.
Being an introvert is by no means a personality trait that will hold you back in the business world. The careful, considered nature of an introvert is an asset many companies require to ensure they're executing the correct strategy. However, for those of us who prefer to listen quietly, knowing how to play the part of the extrovert is a skill that will no doubt help you close deals, motivate your team, or inspire a crowd.