How do you lead an Introvert?

I’m one of those folks who is BIG on collaboration and team-based work. I enjoy the give-and-take of vocal brainstorming and boisterous strategy planning sessions. I wholeheartedly embrace the trend toward revolutionizing educational systems by re-engineering classrooms and the way students learn (e.g. pods and collaborative teams within classrooms vs. desks & eyes forward, individual seat work, etc.).

I recently took my love of team-based learning and collaboration to the soccer field and began coaching my 6-year-old daughter’s co-ed indoor team. Although most of the kids enjoy gregarious pep talks and animated illustrations on what to do, one little girl barely speaks or makes eye contact with me or her teammates. I learned that she performs better with one on one coaching and motivation, so I adjust my leadership style to include more 1 on 1 technique demonstrations and encouragement. In turn, she performs flawlessly on the soccer field…she’s even smiles and “high-fives” her teammates after scoring a goal.

Although this is an over-simplified example, I can attest to the power of situational leadership. A recent New York Times article by Susan Cain explores the rise of anti-collaboration (or groupthink) in corporate culture today, and inadvertently underscores the importance of situational leadership (Paul Hersey & Ken Blanchard’s theory that effective leadership is task-specific…there is not “perfect” leadership style) – especially as it relates to leading those who learn and thrive in dynamic environments:

The Rise of the New Groupthink

SOLITUDE is out of fashion. Our companies, our schools and our culture are in thrall to an idea I call the New Groupthink, which holds that creativity and achievement come from an oddly gregarious place. Most of us now work in teams, in offices without walls, for managers who prize people skills above all. Lone geniuses are out. Collaboration is in. But there’s a problem with this view. Research strongly suggests that people are more creative when they enjoy privacy and freedom from interruption. And the most spectacularly creative people in many fields are often introverted, according to studies by the psychologists Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Gregory Feist. They’re extroverted enough to exchange and advance ideas, but see themselves as independent and individualistic. They’re not joiners by nature.

Click the title to read the article in it’s entirety…it’s a pretty good assessment of what happens when we don’t consider the individuals within the organizations we lead. Hopefully, the undertone of the article cautions us to put the latest management paradigm into perspective and consider how best to include the introverts within our enterprises in our plans for organizational success.


2 responses to “How do you lead an Introvert?

  1. Leading introverts is more easily done if you yourself are an introvert IMHO. But being a raging introvert myself, I’ve had my challenges. Most of them have arisen in some shape or form from my habit of projecting my extroverted assumptions and mindset onto someone with an entirely different set of values and motivations. I can speak to the Situational Leadership angle here as I worked for Dr. Paul Hersey for 18 years. As the author of this article posits, the functional leader much “match” their leadership style to the task-specific readiness of the introverted person. The key here is diagnostics. If you have an in-depth understanding of “Sit Lead” you know the importance already of winnowing out the strongest felt need as it relates to the person’s “willingness” for a task: confidence, commitment and motivation. For an extrovert leading an introvert the key is not jump to conclusions. An extrovert often expects bold manifestations of confidence, commitment and motivation when in reality – this is often much more subdued and quietly presented. I’ve found it’s essential to ask questions of the introvert like “are you OK with all this?” or even, “I’m having a hard time reading you – where are you at on this?” Drilling down, introversion often looks to the rambunctious extrovert like a lack of motivation and it’s absolutely not. This tends to result in a self-fulfilling prophecy: if I treat you like you’re unmotivated and you’re not really, I will become the cause and not the response. I think we all know by know how the introvert tends to be discriminated against in the workplace and that’s really a tragedy.

    The main take-away from Dr. Hersey’s Situational Leadership is to first be clear about what you want in terms of the task and then do you due diligence around making an ACCURATE (unvarnished) assessment of the person ability and willingness. And with an introvert you may have to work a little harder at this. It”s important to have fostered their respect and trust or they may not be forthcoming with the data you need to make an accurate assessment. Dr. Hersey refers to this has having earned personal power with the person.

    That said, I think the better choice for learning how to meet the performance needs of an introverted person as a leader would be better addressed by invoking the Meyers-Briggs model. Here they have what I consider to be a the best model ever for learning how to not blow past an introvert in your haste to make something happen.

    I recall the way the Meyers-Briggs assessment (the MBTI) determines whether you lean extrovert or introvert with an question that reads something like…

    At a party, do you tend to…
    A} Work the room and strive to meet as many people as possible
    B) Engage in a one or just a few really in-depth conversations.

    So in the workplace I think it’s obvious that you’re going to need to slow it down some and really strive for something more authentic than a drive-by sound-byte to get the best work with and from an introvert.

    • Hi Randy – and thanks for the comment. I appreciate your perspective – especially since you’ve worked first-hand with Dr. Hersey.

      I too am a proponent of the MBTI (and DISC) and agree that assessments are a great tool to help a leader properly evaluate the situatedness of their followers. Authentic leadership also leads one to genuinely identify with the follower’s needs – and develop a roadmap to aid them in achieving their goals.

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