Thanks in no small part to Susan Cain’s research, book, and TED talk, the extraordinary talents and abilities of introverts are gaining more recognition and encouragement. She makes the case that looking inward is a virtue, not a problem to be fixed. Advantages of being an introvert include being keen observers, creative powerhouses, and deep thinkers.
The status quo remains, however, that most organizations naturally favor extroverts. You need look no further than a training curriculum filled with skills like public speaking, personal branding, and networking.
If you are an introvert and a manager has ever given you feedback that it would help your career to speak up more in meetings, raise your hand. If your manager is an extrovert, raise your other hand. How many of us right now look like we are at a sporting event doing the wave?
For introverts competing for leadership positions, you can expect to be hinted, nudged, sometimes even pushed to be more extroverted — or at least to be better at faking it. This is almost always done with good intentions based on what that person believes you need to change to be considered as executive material. They may even tell you that your work is among the best, but to make it to the next level you need to work on your Executive Presence.
Which leads me to my next question,
Can introverts have Executive Presence?
First, let’s clear up a common misconception. Though different psychologists may define the term slightly differently, introversion does not equal being shy. Cain defines introversion as a preference for quiet, more minimally stimulating environments.
The image of a person with Executive Presence being an extrovert is so entrenched it seems like the non-negotiable price of admission. But, before we rush to accept this as true, let’s take a closer look at what is really going on.
At the end of the day, when you strip Executive Presence down to its core, it’s about one thing — inspiring confidence that you can lead in a given situation. That’s it.
It’s not about how well-spoken or well-dressed you are or how regal your bearing is. It simply boils down to whether a person feels they should follow you or the other guy or gal. Once you understand this, the path to Executive Presence for introverts magically appears.
The key for introverts is while still operating within their preference for minimally stimulating environments, to connect with others in a way that inspires confidence in their ability to lead. Impossible? Improbable? It may seem that way, but only because the introverted way to Executive Presence doesn’t draw attention to itself the way its extroverted cousin does.
For example, instead of hogging the airwaves, you can listen deeply to others and synthesize the best ideas into an inclusive solution. Instead of engaging in a fiery debate, you can quietly listen to the other person’s position and come up with an innovative solution that both sides appreciate. Notice it is not fitting into the stereotype of a leader that matters. What matters is operating in a way that get results — specifically, helping advance the goal that everyone wants to achieve.
Does this sound like Executive Presence to you? Maybe you’d even prefer to work with someone more like this than your classic hard-charging, take no prisoners leader. I’m not here to take sides. Both introverts and extroverts can be equally effective when they leverage their strengths appropriately.
But wait, there’s more! When it comes to leading a team, introverts don’t feel the need to always be in the limelight. They are less likely to take all the credit for a team’s success. You may even find that more high performers come out of teams led by introverts because the focus isn’t always on the leader, which can hurt the motivation, visibility, and development of other team members.
The challenge for introverts is you have to be among people to lead them. This doesn’t mean you have to be around people all the time or you have to be the star. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take the time you need to recharge.
What it means, and as an introvert I have to constantly remind myself of this, is you need to make the most of the time you are around people. When you are connecting, take opportunities to inspire confidence in your leadership. Then, take the time you need for yourself. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
Remember, your Executive Presence sets the ceiling of your success.
This article was adapted from the new leadership book, Unlock Your Executive Presence: Feel like a Boss. To find out more about Executive Presence and access free leadership videos, podcasts, and guides, go to www.connectioncounselor.com.
Joe Kwon, the Connection Counselor is a leadership coach and keynote speaker who helps elevate careers by unlocking your ability to better connect with yourself and others.
Contact him if you’d like his help.