I am often trying to learn about leadership as I am preparing for the next level of my company. That means hiring employees rather than hiring the services of freelancers. It does somewhat scare me, having people depend on me for guidance and instructions on the work floor, which is why I read current articles about leadership.
I know one challenge for me: I am great at online communication, but at times, I struggle with offline communication. Being a translator (as well as the founder of a translation company and a translation platform) is, therefore, the perfect job for me unless I want to improve myself when it comes to face-to-face communication.
What I have learned is that you do not always have to be loud and aggressive. In fact, sometimes it is better to listen. Being an introvert might actually help when it comes to great leadership. That sounds reassuring to me!
In this blog, I first list 13 tactics that introverts have used to become successful CEOs. After that, I list 4 steps for introverts to become successful leaders. Finally, I show that leadership is not static; it is a process consisting of 5 stages. Both introverts and extroverts can thus evolve.
13 tactics that introverts have used to become successful CEOs
This fun infographic from Your Trade Base shows that not all CEOs and successful business people are extroverts. In fact, many of the biggest CEOs in the world prefer to keep things a little quieter. They use their introverted nature to their advantage. Netimperative shows how you can use this as inspiration.
1. Leverage your introvert skills and benefit from time alone
Bill Gates uses time on his own to do some deep thinking about problems and decisions.
2. Do not stay alone
Team up with extroverts to create good business balance. Steve Jobs teamed up with Steve Wozniak to create Apple.
3. Think long term
Introverts can stay cool when others lose their cool; this gives them the ability to think with long-time perspective in mind. Warren Buffet has been consistently mega-successful over decades.
4. Change the rules to fit your needs
After all, it is your company. Jeff Bezos holds meetings in written form, which helps him better focus on ideas.
5. Push yourself out of your comfort zone
Challenge yourself. Mark Zuckerberg dropped out of Harvard and taught himself Mandarin in his spare time.
6. Listen to people around you
Introverts make great listeners and that is why they seem to prefer a non-hierarchical, democratic way of guiding their companies. Larry Page is known for his democratic leadership and promoting the ideas of employees.
7. Learn to visualize
Spend time imagining your product, company, success and the work towards your vision. Elon Musk is pioneering space travel, electric cars and battery storage all at the same time.
8. Take some time to reflect
It is not always about going forward. Take time to stop and look at what you have done and get feedback. Jack Dorsey spends every Sunday analyzing the previous week’s decisions and uses this feedback to plan ahead.
9. Do not show off
You never know who you will meet or need in the future. Stay humble and learn to value your own mistakes. Tony Hsieh considers being humble as a core business value and runs his company in a deliberately leaderless way.
10. Keep business and pleasure separate
Remember to take some time to do some things just for yourself as it helps you to refocus. Tim Cook loves to spend time on his own following his private passions.
11. Always learn new skills
If something scares you, learn how to develop the skills to cope and ultimately succeed. Guy Kawasaki found being in the spotlight exhausting but worked on developing his speaking skills in order to cope and thrive.
12. Be comfortable working alone
If a camel is a horse designed by a committee, then sometimes it is best if you do things yourself. Steve Wozniak always works by himself and makes the big decisions based on his own experience.
13. Do not forget that feelings matter
Even when you are making billions, you are still a regular person like everyone else. You do not need to be best friends with your employees, but it is important to show that you are human. Douglas Conant still gets nervous before speeches, but that helps him deliver.
4 steps for introverts to become successful leaders
Now that we have seen examples from successful CEOs, it is time to dig a little deeper into what introverts can learn in order to become successful leaders. After all, as Chris Myers says, we often tend to mistake loudness for confidence, and aggression for strength. Consequently, extroverts regularly have an easier time rising to the top of an organization. Once there, however, Myers has found that the traits and behaviors most often associated with introverts are the ones that separate successful leaders from unsuccessful ones.
Introverted leaders should, therefore, take the things they are naturally good at and supplement those skills with a strategic dose of extroversion. If introverts are able to strike the right balance, they will develop a leadership style uniquely suited for the modern workplace. Myers mentions the following 4 steps:
1. Listen and empathize
Leaders who are self-aware and introverted are typically better equipped to listen and empathize with the people with whom they interact. This ability, of course, is an invaluable skill in the modern workplace.
There is almost always more to a story than meets the eye, Myers says. It is tempting to take a given problem at face value and hammer home a simple solution. Instead, it is better to listen. Good leaders explore all options before jumping to conclusions.
2. Think deeply, but act with purpose
Individuals in the workplace who speak first and think later can be difficult to work with because they do not respect the nuance and details of the situation at hand and they act from a position of force.
When these people find their way into leadership positions, their behavior often makes the team lose respect. Frustrations, poor results, and bad turnover are the results.
Introverted leaders, as Myers claims, can thrive where these individuals fail. Introverted leaders tend to think deeply about a given scenario before taking action. Contemplating the details of a situation first makes introverts better equipped to communicate with their team and drive good results.
Introverts should act with purpose, though, once all aspects of the situation have been considered. There is no excuse to be passive. Leaders must be able to think deeply but take action when the time comes.
3. Remember that a light touch can move mountains
Rather than hammer people until they produce an expected outcome, introverted leaders bring an array of tools and approaches tailored to the situation at hand, enabling them to find the right path forward for everyone.
When you are a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. Myers believes that leaders who can think deeply and act intelligently can find the unique and often less abrasive ways to get the outcomes they desire.
4. Find your balance
Nothing in life is as cut and dried as we would like, Myers states. Introverts and extroverts do not exist in separate, well-defined buckets. Instead, they sit on a spectrum unique for everyone.
Introverts possess the skills and traits found in the best leaders. These, however, cannot exist in a vacuum, so to find success, introverts must learn to augment their natural abilities with the ability to drive change and move mountains.
5 stages of leadership
Minda Zetlin asks what kind of leader you think you are. Are you able to inspire those around you to do their best work and help your company thrive in a complex world? Does being a good leader leave you drained and exhausted or are you able to handle it with lightness and enthusiasm?
Apparently, the answer depends on the stage of leadership you are in. Zetlin gets her inspiration from Bob Anderson’s book Mastering Leadership: An Integrated Framework for Breakthrough Performance and Extraordinary Business Results. Anderson says there are 5 stages of leadership; where you fall on that scale determines both your effectiveness and efficiency as a leader. According to him, each progressive stage ushers in a greater leadership capacity to meet complexity with lower energetic cost. Each stage leads to the next, and moving from one stage to the next stage helps you build an organization that is better able to compete in a complex world.
1. Egocentric leadership
This lowest leadership stage is adolescent and immature. Fortunately, many leaders seem to evolve past it on their own. Nevertheless, if you believe that the only way to get anything done is to tell employees explicitly what to do and then hammer them until they do it, there is a good chance you are stuck at this stage.
2. Reactive leadership
Most managers are at this stage. Much of their leadership behavior is being run on autopilot, shaped by the outside expectations of those in their past and current circumstances. Reactive leaders are authored by others, according to Anderson. The organizations they create are often very hierarchical and depend on top-down control.
3. Creative leadership
Creative leaders are self-authoring. They are ‘at choice’ about how they show up in most circumstances rather than acting on autopilot. They lead from their own deeply held purpose and values.
4. Integral leadership
This form of leadership is built for complexity. It sees wholes, not merely parts, and is capable of holding a significant diversity of opinion and deeply conflicted positions in dialogue without reacting to fix things or champion one perspective over another. This ability to hold the tension of conflicting opposites allows high-order solutions to emerge. Unfortunately, integral cultures are very rare.
5. Unitive leadership
Leaders at this stage of development are apparently operating from the enlightened awareness that all is an astonishing unity. “We are not separate selves. We are inherently one,” Anderson says. As 4 is rare, this type is even rarer. In fact, it is so rare that Anderson knows of no organization that operates at this level.
That makes unitive leadership sound like some kind of Holy Grail to me: not a practical tip and thus not helpful to this soon-to-be beginning leader. I will just stick to the basics for now. Still, it is reassuring to know we can all evolve as leaders, both introverts and extroverts, and both great communicators and great thinkers.
Showing good leadership, and, for me, thus being able to communicate my thoughts well face-to-face, is a challenge I would like to take on. After all, I am all about improving myself and seizing new opportunities. If you want to know more about seizing opportunities, the blog ‘How to Be Great at Seizing Opportunities’ might be a good source.