Business

The Right Way to Lead the Introverts on Your Team



Introverts face headwinds when climbing the corporate ladder. Fifty-seven percent of global workers consider themselves introverts, but only 39 percent of senior leaders do, according to the Myers-Briggs Company. 

This gap suggests corporations reward extroverts, which often results in managers grooming extroverts. But, perhaps it’s not the introverts who need to change their behaviors; perhaps it’s the managers. Here are two ways managers can not only support introverts, but also help them thrive in their career: the feedback flip and mindful meetings.

The Feedback Flip

If you’re an introvert, chances are you’ve received stressful feedback like this from your boss. Here’s what bad looks like:

  • “You could speak up more in team meetings, and you should share and scale your work more.”
  • “You need to proactively collaborate more across departments.”

That feedback hurts when you’re an introvert who goes inward to do your best work. Introverts tend to succeed when independent thinking is rewarded, and large meetings are often their nemesis. So what if we flipped the type of feedback managers give? Here’s what good looks like:

  • “I recognize you don’t love speaking up in groups; what if you share your ideas via Slack and email more?”
  • “What work excites you most? I’m happy to assign you projects that are independent versus collaborative.”

The feedback flip honors the direct report’s working style and sets them up for career success, both now and in the future. It also makes the introvert feel seen and respected for who they truly are. No one’s going to be successful 40-hours a week if they constantly need to fake it.

Mindful Meetings

Important projects are frequently discussed and assigned during team meetings, so managers should strive to lead their meetings mindfully. Managers often ask for fast reactions and snap decisions about who wants to lead high-profile initiatives; however, this communication style creates headwinds for introverts. In Monday’s team meeting, here’s what bad looks like:

  • “Who wants to volunteer to lead our 2023 marketing strategy? Please raise your hand.”

There’s no way the introvert in the room is getting that project. They need to fully think it through before volunteering. The introvert might still want the project, but their brain simply isn’t wired for snap-decision-making. If you manager’s leading mindful meetings, here’s what good looks like:

  • “We need a volunteer to lead our 2023 marketing strategy. Please take this week to consider if you are interested and email me by Friday.”

This tactic is inclusive to introverts in several ways. First, it allows them to email their answer rather than requiring them to speak up publicly. Second, it gives them more time to consider their options. Third, it offers space to ask their boss questions in a one-on-one meeting. Ultimately, this gives the introvert a fighting chance at leading this important project. 

So much of career success is leading big, strategic work, such as this 2023 marketing strategy project, versus being relegated to small, inconsequential work, such as picking the restaurant for the team lunch. Therefore, if the manager always asks for in-meeting, real-time decisions, it’s a problem. The extrovert’s hand is high up in the air before the introvert even has a moment to consider it. The extrovert gets the 2023 project, the project is a huge hit, and their career takes off. The introverts? Not so much. 

And the beauty is, this tactic doesn’t exclude the extrovert from expressing interest; it simply levels the playing field for the introvert. 

Given that the bad examples above are common, it’s no surprise there’s an almost 20 percentage point gap between workers who are introverts and leaders who are introverts. By shifting the burden of responsibility to managers, introverts will feel more supported and comfortable. When they are empowered to shine in their own quiet way, their careers will accelerate, and they’ll start joining those executives at the top. Not everybody speaks to think. Many people think to speak, and that includes some of our companies’ most inspiring leaders.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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