As a fan of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and an INFP, I’m always striving to learn more about how personality preferences affect workplace performance – strengthening a person’s ability to be successful or at times, creating road blocks to personal best. Recognizing that the MBTI measures preferences, not skills, reminds us to be careful of making judgments of an individual based on his/her four-letter type. Rather, learning your type can help you nurture and grow elements of your personality that are “built-in” areas of possibility that may or may not have been tapped to their fullest potential. Furthermore, In Zenger and Folkman’s book The Extraordinary Leader, they stress the importance of not just fixing your weaknesses so that you become “average” in your performance, but building your “strengths” so that you can become a “great” leader. Let’s examine how introverts can use some of their strengths to add value to the workplace and enhance their already natural potential.
Introverts have a preference for drawing energy from their internal world of ideas, emotions and impressions (Hirsh and Kummerow, Introduction to Type in Organizations). Nancy Ancowitz in her 2010 book, Self-Promotion for Introverts, cites new data that suggests introverts comprise about half the population. She also points out that a recent USA Today article claims that 4 in 10 top executives are introverts, including some famous leaders such as Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Charles Schwab, Steven Spielberg and CEO Brenda Barnes. Ancowitz, an introvert herself, notes that “despite the staggering bias against introversion in American society, the MBTI tool treats extraverts and introverts as equals and doesn’t place any value judgment on one being better than the other.” Why? Because preference doesn’t dictate performance; skills do. However, it can shed light on where to put your focus to reach your goals and, particularly as an introvert, the energy you’ll need to harness to get there.
So, what can we as managers or supervisors of introverts do to help them utilize their strengths? As an introvert, what can you do with this knowledge of your preference to assist you in your workplace success? Let’s start by looking at the introvert’s strengths as:
1. Deep-thinkers and good written communicators. Introverts are interested in the facts and/or ideas behind their work and prefer to think about it, rather than act, and then think again about their actions. They thoroughly think through ideas, thoughts and impressions before they speak out about them. So, how does this personality characteristic get enhanced in the workplace?
As managers/supervisors of introverts: provide opportunities for your introverts to do research, gather information and present information/summaries/ recommendations in written format to others. When a project or task requires unbroken concentration or accuracy, give it to an introvert.
As an introvert: search out these opportunities to shine. Consider presenting ideas in written format in reports, white papers, articles or blogs. Be the person to capture ideas and synthesize information and offer to provide written summaries and take notes. Embrace the fact that in the midst of chaos, change or stress, you can concentrate on the work and tune everything else out. Volunteer to showcase what you bring to the party and the research and studying you are willing to do.
Introverts can use their natural preference to gain more skills and their ability to zone in and focus on getting the work done. Introverts should volunteer for opportunities that involve individual work and participation in smaller sub-teams; projects that require a lot of interaction, larger group meetings and discussions may drain introverts of their energy. They should position themselves as Subject Matter Experts and look for ways to showcase that expertise to others. However, introverts need to remember that they don’t have to be the most read and knowledgeable person in the room to share a good idea. Rather than being seen as a roadblock to change, introverts can use their deep thinking skills to participate in planning out the new initiative, provide written communication, outline contingencies and play devil’s advocate. They can also help to slow down the change process when it is needed.
2. Good listeners. As managers/supervisors of introverts: create opportunities for introverts to coach and mentor individuals. An orientation toward listening rather than speaking allows introverts to be good at connecting with others individually, asking excellent questions and clarifying problems or issues. They will also be less likely to speak before they think and take time to discuss advice before giving it. Introverts will have a good pulse on the work environment and can offer their managers important insight into team or department functioning.
As an introvert: continue to build your skills and your reputation as someone who is willing to listen to others. Look for ways to add value as a listener and share insights from what you have observed when appropriate. Even though you may speak up less than others, make what you say count and don’t be surprised when others ask for your input more often. Introverts can capitalize on their quieter side and ability to engage in deep conversations to bolster this ability.
3. Reflective. Introverts are reflective by preference and enjoy going back over situations or problems to uncover root causes and will find ways to improve a task or situation for the future.
As managers/supervisors of introverts: go to your introverts to lead the initiative towards continuous improvement and champion your PDCA process. Give them a role or a voice in meetings with this task in mind. Help others to see that their tendency to be less participatory in group process is not shyness or insecurity, simply the desire to get the facts right before speaking and to think, before making decisions. Be an advocate for introverts and counter some natural bias or assumptions about an introvert’s character or behavior that may occur.
As an introvert: don’t keep your findings to yourself. If you aren’t comfortable bringing your thoughts out in a group setting, write up your observations and send it out to others. Knowing that you like to reflect on your opinions before you share be pro-active in getting the agenda ahead of time and any other pre-reads available. Take the time to think through the discussion and write out your ideas or reactions and bring them to the meeting. Knowing that you have framed your thoughts and questions may give you more opportunities to participate in larger group settings. Find opportunities to talk with key team members one-on-one or find an extravert that will bring you into the discussion.
4. A manager or supervisor who leads by example. Introverts spend time alone thinking about who they are and what they value. They will also take the time to act in accordance with those values. Introverts that are leaders are the first to “walk the talk” and provide consistency between what they believe and how they act. The challenge for them lies in letting others see the introvert’s true self (and hence their strengths as a leader) and motivation, as often that is hidden from others.
As managers/supervisors of introverts: don’t be afraid to put your Introverts in a position of responsibility; just don’t expect them to lead the same public way an extravert would. Encourage introverts to meet individually with staff to gain ideas and share their vision and values as they are more effective in smaller group settings and use written communication to reinforce issues discussed.
As an introvert: don’t think your introversion gets in the way of your leadership potential and don’t be afraid to exert leadership in your own way, not how others think you should lead. Study other famous introvert leaders and draw on their experiences to help guide you. However, don’t forget to communicate with others and involve others, particularly extravert staff in planning and problem solving. Communicating how you operate to others will increase their ability to understand what to expect from you from process to decision making. Stand your ground as an introvert and don’t let extraverts exhaust you or force you to make decisions or share answers before you are ready to do so.
These are a few areas of strength for introverts; there are many more. The real issue for introverts is letting the rest of the world see them. As Ancowitz suggests, the goal becomes tuning out the negative self-talk that keeps introverts stuck and turning on the media blitz of self-promotion to get on the extravert playing field.
In the end, as other leaders have proven, introverts can be as skilled at extraversion as extraverts. It’s all about choice – as an introvert or extravert, recognizing where you want to add value and then gaining what you need to provide that value is the key. How are you using the knowledge of your personality type? Are you unlocking your potential? Are you overcoming your tendencies? Are your preferences for introversion or extraversion in the driver’s seat limiting your growth or success and you may not even know it?
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