“She is too quiet to be a manager.“
My leadership influences as a young manager were limited to coaches, teachers, and a handful of charismatic executives. From my lens, leaders were extroverted, vocal, and loud. I hadn’t considered that introverts make great leaders too.
This is why I almost blocked a promotion to someone who was none of those things. One of our top sales reps was also our least talkative. She was incredibly bright, driven, and produced at an exceptional rate.
But every time I saw her, it was like pulling teeth to get her to open up. Many of her sales peers were gregarious, vocal, and opinionated while she was the exact opposite.
“How can she lead a team if she rarely speaks?”
Judging a person’s leadership quality by the volume of noise they produce is like guessing the winner of a boxing match by who has more tattoos.
Thankfully, I was convinced otherwise by the manager who wanted to promote her.
Proving Me Wrong
It didn’t take long for me to recognize how wrong my assessment was. The entire mood in the office changed when she was promoted.
People laughed more, worked together closer to solve problems, and morale in the office was great. The team loved her and results improved immediately.
What did I miss?
As an executive, I was removed from her day-to-day interactions with peers. I knew that she was smart and great at her job, but my exposure to this person was often in a meeting setting.
They won’t shine in that context but that doesn’t mean introverts won’t make great leaders.
The knock on quiet leaders is often, “They don’t speak up enough in meetings.” Let’s think about the absurdity of that comment. How much communication takes place in a meeting setting? Maybe 5%?
So we judge someone who spends 95% of their time communicating one-on-one on how well they do in big groups. I hope that strikes you as absurd. Managers don’t run their teams exclusively from large group meetings, so why should choose that context as an evaluation platform?
Also, who is knocking that person for “not speaking up enough in meetings?”
Harvard Business Review found, “Though just 50% of the general population is extroverted, 96% of managers and executives display extroverted personalities. And the higher you go in a corporate hierarchy, the more likely you are to find highly extroverted individuals.”
So extroverted executives say, “They are not like us, therefore they cannot be effective in the role.” But people get results in different ways and diversity is what makes an organization special.
Introverts Make Great Leaders
Google studied hundreds of managers to understand the traits most desired by employees in their leadership teams. In their findings, “Talks a lot” did not make the Top 10.
What you will find in their results are common traits of many introverts:
- Is a good coach
- Empowers team and does not micromanage
- Is productive and results-oriented
- Listens and shares information
- Creates an inclusive team environment
Nothing in that list is specific to an extrovert. In fact, those traits are more likely to be found in an introvert. Every one of those attributes starts with a great listener and proof that introverts make great leaders.
And if introverts are not always comfortable being the center of attention, who are they likely to share the spotlight with? Great coaches ask amazing questions and let their team do the talking.
If I want someone to break through a plateau, I need them to feel as if they are developing the plan. This creates a sense of ownership and is much more powerful than dictating a plan that has worked for me in the past.
Introverts make great coaches.
Better Questions To Ask Of Your Potential Leaders
Fill a room with enough boisterous extroverts and nothing will get done. If you want a balanced organization, you need to proactively seek out both introverts and extroverts in your leadership team.
Instead of placing a high emphasis on “speaking up in meetings,” look for how your candidates are currently interacting with their team. When it comes to picking leaders, I now ask different questions:
1. “Does she behave like a leader today?”
2. “Who does the team go to when a manager is not in the office?”
3. “Is he a good teammate when no one is watching?”
4. “Does she question the status quo in her own way?”
5. “How many of his ideas have we implemented?”
The best candidate is often the one doing the job before they have the title. When you get it right, the team responds with a collective, “What took you so long?”
The right person often leads quietly, uninterested in the recognition that most extroverts crave. This is also the person most easily passed up for promotion. But do you want a great self-promoter or a great leader?
Don’t underestimate your quiet leaders.
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