Introverts in the workplace are often misunderstood. They can come across as shy, withdrawn or even lacking empathy. The fact is they make exceptional members of a team -- and can be good leaders if you take the time and effort to understand their mindset. In Susan Cain's bestselling book, Quiet, she outlines the abundant merits of introverted leaders such a big-picture thinking and deep listening.
However, a recent study reported that, contrary to their extroverted counterparts, introverts are less likely to seek leadership positions as they believe the role would induce feelings of stress and worry. The results of the study make sense, but even though most introverts may not foresee themselves in a leadership role, it does not mean they are not qualified for the job. An outpouring of research and literature point to the strengths and benefits of the introverted leader including traits such as inspiring servant leadership and the role-modeling of more heart-centered behavior.
So how do you, as a leader, encourage your more introverted colleagues to engage with others and feel comfortable assuming leadership responsibilities?
Whether intended or unintended, leaders have tremendous power to influence the emotional states of their people. The key to helping introverts shine is an appreciation of their mindset. If you take the time to come to understand them, you'll be in a better position to help them confront their beliefs about the negative emotions associated with engaging others and seeking more dynamic, leadership roles.
Here are some suggestions to guide introverted associates and challenge their beliefs:
1. Specifically ask for their input.
For example, if you are in a group meeting, remember to invite these folks to the party. Introverts are generally very good at listening and processing information. A shy person may find it difficult to speak over those who speak up, so make a point of asking them for their opinion. For instance, single them out and ask: "What do you think?" or "tell me more about that..." Continually encourage them to voice their opinion.
2. Provide positive feedback and encourage their participation.
It is important to maintain self-esteem, particularly if someone is uncomfortable speaking up. Say things like, "Thank you for sharing that, excellent thought." This will spur them on to contribute to the conversation at that juncture, and in the future. If you are in a one-on-one setting with a shy individual, be sure to ask them their thoughts and opinions on what is being discussed. Most introverts prefer this to a group situation, but it's not always a realistic option. Therefore, a little pro-active coaching may be useful.
3. Outline the consequences of staying silent.
Get them to understand the impact of not speaking up. This will reinforce the point that that they may be putting the team at risk when they withhold their input. It also validates the fact that their contribution is appreciated. Be sure to point out that their silence or lack of input may also make them appear disengaged -- or that they may not value their colleagues' time and efforts. Remember, introverts process the big picture but do not always notice the fine print. Shy people must be made aware of the outward appearance of their behavior in the workplace.
4. Dig deep to understand their perspective.
Ask the person, outright, why they think it's difficult for them to voice their opinions. It could be that it is just their nature, or there may be a negative dynamic between another co-worker that is the impetus for their unease. They may also feel that they are shot down when they contribute ideas. If this is the case, you can help work toward a viable solution.
5. Provide training and tools for development.
Communication and leadership development is vital for all your colleagues -- particularly introverts. Present opportunities for the "quiet ones" to participate in programs such as Toastmasters training or other courses that provide practical experience in public speaking and leadership skills, taught in a safe learning environment.