A few months ago, UKG published an article on “How to be a Transparent Leader.” If you haven’t already checked it out, it’s worth a read. The article talks about leadership being defined as being able to influence. From an organizational standpoint, this means that everyone can be a leader. So, transparent leadership is focused on using feedback mechanisms to share information (i.e., influence), which ultimately will make employees better at their jobs and the organization stronger.
Let’s take the conversation one step further by talking about how individuals can demonstrate leadership using their individual preferences. By individual preferences, we’re talking about the qualities of introversion and extroversion because leaders don’t exclusively have one or the other.
A person with introverted qualities prefers calm environments, limits social engagement, or embraces a greater-than-average preference for solitude. An introvert might be someone who gets their energy from being quiet or having time to themselves. Extroverts have a disposition that is energized through social engagement and get their energy from being with people in teams or group activities.
Use Both Your Introvert and Extrovert Preferences
Unfortunately, the terms extrovert and introvert are often used incorrectly. For example, someone might imply that extroverts are better leaders because they are outgoing and gregarious, while introverts are shy so they wouldn’t make a good manager. Just a little factoid, some people who have identified as introverts include Michael Jordan, Barack Obama, Rosa Parks, and Meryl Streep.
While it can seem helpful to identify people as introverts or extroverts, organizations should be careful when attaching labels to people. If an organization makes decisions based on an incorrect definition, they could be missing out on fantastic leaders. Susan Cain, author of the book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking” mentions how highly talented people are often overlooked for leadership roles because they don’t “fit the mold” of how the organization (mistakenly) thinks leaders should act. We might see this manifest itself in comments like, “They can’t lead a team; they’re an introvert.” Or, “They won’t be able to present our business case because they’re shy...they’re an introvert.”
You might be asking yourself, “Besides knowing the definition of the words we use, is there something else that organizations and individuals can do to build a stronger culture of leadership?” The answer is yes. It starts with recognizing that no one is 100% introvert or extrovert, even if they call themselves one or the other. Organizations should encourage employees to think about both qualities and when they use them.
Some individuals might find that they gravitate toward one or the other at home versus at work, or tend to feel one way around certain groups and differently in others. It’s also possible that an individual might intentionally focus on introverted or extroverted qualities based on a situation.
Let’s say someone is trying to work through a problem at work – a common occurrence. Some people might look for colleagues to brainstorm with and throw a bunch of ideas around. That’s a very “extroverted” thing to do. Another person might look for a nice quiet space to be alone and work through the problem in their own mind or research expert sources.
There’s also a third option. A person might want to spend some time alone with the problem to think through the challenge, gather some data, and then look for a few colleagues to brainstorm ideas with. This last option includes both introversion and extroversion. Organizations might want to consider encouraging leaders to lean into both their introvert and extrovert qualities because if we use them both at the right time, we can create the best outcomes.
"Organizations might want to consider encouraging leaders to lean into both their introvert and extrovert qualities because if we use them both at the right time, we can create the best outcomes."
Respect the Introvert and Extrovert Preferences of Others
In addition to individuals learning how to use their preferences for introversion and extroversion, there might be times when we should be willing to share or talk about our preferences. This type of self-awareness might come up during one-on-one meetings, mentoring sessions, and career development activities.
Let’s use another problem-solving example where an employee presents a problem to their manager. The problem isn’t time sensitive, so the manager asks to think about it overnight and get back to them tomorrow. This allows the manager to find some time alone to really think through the problem and come up with a good solution – and maybe even multiple solutions.
There might also be times when we need to share our preferences because we know that we need to do something different. Let’s use the same example with an employee who is working through a problem. Typically, they would find a group of co-workers and talk it out, but they know they need to work through some details on their own first. The employee might ask their manager if they can work alone in a conference room or from home, so they won’t be distracted.
The reverse is also true. Introversion and extroversion aren’t about just doing what we want. It’s also about respecting the preferences of others. Using the examples above, we might have a question, and someone asks us to give them time to consider their response. If we can give them the time, that’s showing respect for them and their (introvert) style.
"Introversion and extroversion aren’t about just doing what we want. It’s also about respecting the preferences of others."
Or an employee who typically likes to work through problems on their own, finds themselves in a situation where they must find a solution quickly. They might go to a co-worker and say, “You’re really good at this and I need some help. Do you have time for me?” This is both an acknowledgement that they are stepping outside their (introvert) comfort zone as well as a show of respect for the talents of others.
Develop Both Your Introversion and Extroversion Qualities
Organizations and teams need leaders to have both introvert and extrovert qualities and as individuals, we want to get comfortable using both.
It starts with understanding the definitions of introversion and extroversion. This will allow the organization to make good talent decisions and encourage leaders to become more self-aware of their introversion and extroversion preferences. Not only when to use them, but respecting the preferences of others as well.