Whether you are a self-described introvert or a leader just wanting to learn how to harness the gifts of your introvert team members, this article is for you!
In the last article we explored introvert characteristics and their strengths. This time I want to focus on how we can apply that knowledge and benefit from it in the workplace. Today we will cover these topics:
- Who is Susan Cain and what does she have to say about introversion?
- My experience as an introvert in an extrovert classroom
- Hints for leaders interacting with their introvert team members
- Cain’s call to action
Who is Susan Cain?
Susan Cain is an author and speaker in the Success/Lifestyle/Workplace genre and in 2015 she cofounded Quiet Revolution, a mission-based company with initiatives to help others understand and value the strengths of introverted people.
She expressed these ideas in her TedTalk (see link below) about introverts that all leaders should consider:
- In the 20th century, perhaps in part due to the industrial revolution, society started to value the extrovert’s social skills and energy over the introvert’s deep thinking quieter persona in leadership roles. Studies show extroverts tend to be promoted more than introverts.
- So many of our most impactful leaders have been introverts; Gandhi, Eleanor Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein, Bill Gates, Rosa Parks, just to name a few. They were leaders because they were passionate about their beliefs and had no choice in their mind but to activate change.
- Our schools and work environments right now are designed for extroverts with pods and open plan office space to work in groups with lots of noise and distraction and students or employees that need quiet solitude are seen as not being “team players”.
- Solitude is often a primary ingredient for creativity and invention. Profound epiphanies are found in solitude. Biologically, humans tend to mirror each other, and so it’s better for people to first go off by themselves to figure ideas out, then come back together in the group to share ideas.
My experience as an introvert in an extrovert classroom
It may seem unusual at first that an introvert such as myself would choose teaching as my profession. But upon closer inspection, it makes sense. As an introvert, I love learning, and my strong values to help others become better versions of themselves overshadowed my preference for daily quiet, small group social interaction. Not to say that I did not often go home emotionally and mentally drained- it was not easy for me. However, I believe I brought things to the education table that leaders can learn from today.
Hints for Leaders interacting with their introvert team members:
- Some people NEED a quiet work environment with some privacy so they can focus. Do not punish them because you need to micromanage the loud ones that tend to stay off-task. I used it as a reward- the ones who were diligent with their independent work were allowed to go off sight to work sometimes.
- Group projects are painful for some people – ever notice in group work that the louder ones take over with distractions and the quieter ones are the ones doing most of the work? I saw it all the time!
- It is better to give parts of a project to each person and have them work alone on those parts, and THEN come together and share their findings.
- Do not always let the introvert off the hook when it comes to presenting. They will not like it, but it is a skill they should grow in, and taking baby steps will help them in the long run with their confidence level.
- Notice the quiet ones in meetings and ask their thoughts if you see any signs they are wanting to speak yet are not. They often do not get a chance to speak with more extrovert team members. This could also be done after the meeting one on one if they are very shy about speaking in front of the group.
- Ask team members to put thoughts in writing and email them to you.
- Give the introverts research projects and problem-solving issues where they can shine and serve you best.
- Take the time to acknowledge your introvert team members, as they do not get the attention their extravert team members do.
If you are an introvert and have other ideas to add to this list, please contact me through this website and let me know!
Susan Cain ended her TedTalk with this call to action, which I agree with wholeheartedly.
Her call to action includes these three things:
- Stop the pressure of group work. Collaboration is great, but autonomy is where deep thought comes from, so provide that private space for employees and students.
- Unplug and think in solitude every once in a while.
- Introverts: share your thoughts and ideas! We need them!
I encourage you as a leader or future leader to be aware of your team’s personalities and extract the value they offer. They will appreciate it and you and your organization will benefit!
Check out Susan’s books and TedTalk for more on the power of introverts!
Quiet Power; The Secret Strengths of Introverts
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking