By Jo Anne Preston, MS, Workforce and Organizational Development Senior Manager, Rural Wisconsin Health Cooperative (RWHC). This article (“Introverted Leaders”) was originally published in RWHC’s Leadership Insights.
MYTH: Extraverts make better leaders.
TRUTH: Both strong and weak leaders can be found in any personality style. An even bigger, and often misunderstood truth: personality traits are not the same as skill.
What does it mean to be introverted?
You might be introverted if you:
✓ Tend to prefer thinking things through before speaking vs. thinking out loud
✓ Find that situations with lots of stimuli tend to drain your energy
✓ Generally are more energized working alone or with a very small group than in an open team setting
No one is “pure” when it comes to personality style, and we are all a complex array of traits. Though it’s not static like our blood type, when it comes to navigating the energy dynamic of our internal and external world, most people lean in one direction more than another.
Stereotypes of extraverted leaders as charismatic and “verbal stand-outs” can sometimes make it tough for introverts to get noticed for leadership opportunities. It’s a little bit like extraverted kids in the classroom who raise their hand with their whole body, drawing all the attention, leaving the more deliberate and internally focused introverted students unnoticed.
When it comes to being a leader, being authentically you is a strength, notes Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking. Being “authentically you” starts with spending some time reflecting on who you are, and personality exploration is a fun and useful way to be “positively self-centered.”
Tips for improving your leadership capacity
If you are an introvert:
1. Don’t assume you won’t be a great public speaker! Strongly introverted Susan Cain's TED Talk with 14 million views is just one example of evidence to the contrary. Effective speaking takes practice, and anyone who wants to excel must do the drills. As an extraverted speaker, most of my best ideas I have learned from Cella Janisch Hartline, RWHC Nursing Leadership Senior Manager, who is an extreme introvert AND gifted speaker and educator. She is powerfully engaging, impacting learners like a force of nature, proof that introversion is not the same as talent. It is also not the same as being shy. Introversion is about how you re-energize. After teaching all day she seeks time alone, and understanding personality differences helps me to not take that personally-a huge benefit in our working relationship!
2. Be conscious of your facial expressions. A very common experience among introverts it is that people often ask them, “Are you mad at me?" The introverted thinking face can look a lot like irritation or anger. Be aware that you may feel very approachable, but it doesn’t work if others don’t experience you as such. Isn’t some of this on the other person’s part to assume good intent? Yes. And. We are still accountable for the message we are sending out.
3. Be mindful of the toll that “people-ing” takes on you. A “best use” for personality tools is understanding your own wiring so that you can meet your needs. We all need to know what kind of fuel our engine takes to recharge, and then it’s up to us to go after it. Manage your energy by:
✗ Allowing—and valuing as productive—the thinking time you need before beginning something new
✗ Asking for agendas and written material to review prior to meetings
✗ Seeking out some opportunities to work alone
✗ Asking others for time to think about or process their questions before responding
4. Reveal your thinking. Help others understand your personality and what makes you tick. People want to know what you think, and in a vacuum of information, rumors will fill in the gaps. One daily habit to develop is to ask yourself, “Who might benefit from knowing what is on my mind?”
Understanding your strengths
Skeptical of personality instruments? They can still help if you are open to asking, “What can I learn from personality awareness to make me a better leader?” With an open mind, these tools (and there are many) can help individuals and teams appreciate, rather than fight against, diverse approaches to work and life.
Rural Wisconsin Health Cooperative (RWHC) has been providing affordable and effective services to healthcare organizations since 1979. RWHC is owned and operated by forty rural acute, general medical-surgical hospitals. The Cooperative's emphasis on developing a collaborative network among both freestanding and system-affiliated rural hospitals distinguishes it from alternative approaches. RWHC offers a variety of programs and services to its members as well as to other clients across the nation.
The National Rural Health Resource Center (The Center) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to sustaining and improving health care in rural communities. Rural Health Innovations, LLC is a subsidiary of the National Rural Health Resource Center.