4 Key Traits of Effective Introvert Leaders

An introvert leader

Leaning into these four introvert strengths can make you an effective leader.

Research shows that 77 percent of companies identified a leadership gap in 2019. What is a leadership gap? Companies are lacking leaders to fill positions now and it will only get worse as 10,000 Baby Boomers per day retire! Furthermore, most companies are also finding a gap in skillset to meet the evolving world of creative innovation, balanced problem-solving, and relationship-building.

It turns out that introverts are primed to satisfy both parts of this widening gap. Although introverts are roughly 50 percent of the working population, a study has revealed introverts are only 2 percent of top executives. However, to that end, there are many renowned introverts in leadership positions, from Bill Gates to Jill Biden.

Introverts have the personality traits and strengths necessary to succeed now — and in the decades ahead. And four common introvert traits in particular empower us to take the lead in the 2020s and beyond: listening, learning, loyalty, and list-making. Each of these was found to be prominent throughout the more than 940 respondents (so far) to the BeyondIntroversion.com 2020-21 Introvert Superpower Quiz. The quiz asked respondents to answer 32 questions about various scenarios in order to determine which strengths they utilize most. Though all introverts are unique, these four traits were quite prominent across the respondents and may be the key to your leadership journey.

Let’s dive into each — what they are, how we use and grow them, and what cautions to consider.

Key Traits of Effective Introverted Leaders

1. Listening

“I believe that there’s something interesting about anyone and everyone — you just have to figure out what that something is.” –Tony Hsieh (former CEO of Zappos, introvert)

Listener introverts are:

  • Observant
  • Reflective
  • Introspective
  • Perceptive
  • Attentive

It’s no secret that introverts are naturally good listeners. In addition, introverts who listen tend to be quite perceptive. You use these skills to actively listen to others, to observe scenes (people-watching), to consider both sides of an issue, and to think introspectively. For example, if you observe people in a meeting, some are daydreaming, some are actively taking notes, and others are observing body language and considering the value of the discussion and how they may incorporate points into their own part of the business. The latter group are often introverts.

If you’re a “listener” introvert, you appear to be observant and quiet, but you are often surveying the landscape and absorbing information. You prefer more time to assess situations and options before declaring a position or view. At home and at work, you tend to see situations from a different perspective and then take the time to consider other views before moving forward.

How to Strengthen Your Listening Skills

Introverts are well-served to grow their listening skills, and it will help them highlight meeting points, challenge specific ideas, and incorporate parts of the discussion in their business to derive further value. To grow this skill, consciously observe — not just words, but body language at home and in meetings (whether they’re virtual or in person). Prepare for meetings by considering who will attend, their possible agenda, and any presentation materials you can get in advance. Take notes to remember and reinforce all the details, then repeat what you hear and/or probe further for more details. This will help to focus your observations and speed up your process to voice opinions (which doesn’t come naturally to us introverts).

However: Don’t be drawn to make early, verbose pronouncements. Take your time to observe, analyze, consider, and decide. Your views will make a difference.

2. Learning

“I learned how to be a learner. When you get in a job, the tendency is to say, ‘I’ve got to know it. I’ve got to give direction to others. I’m in this job because I’m better and smarter.’ I always took a different view, that the key was to identify the people who really knew and learn from them.” –Anne Mulcahy (former CEO of Xerox, introvert)

“Learner” introverts are:

  • Studious
  • Readers
  • Teachers
  • Curious
  • Educators

If you’re a learner introvert, you love to learn. You are curious about the world around you. You are often a voracious reader and regularly check out podcasts and YouTube channels, along with documentaries. Understanding the history of the world around you is important. 

At home, that may mean researching genealogy or reading nonfiction books. At work, having some background on your company and projects you are working on helps to bring context, may spark creative ideas, and develops loyalty with your colleagues. Ensure you make time to quench your need to learn!

How to Strengthen Your Learning Skills

Grow your talent by practice. Learn new subjects. Delve deeper into the background of organizations. Learn new skills at work and how things operate. Consider how processes may become more efficient. Study the culture and history of vacation spots or even the town you live in. Sharing your learnings is a great conversation starter, as well, which can help even the quietest introvert.

Schedule one-on-one “Get To Know You” sessions with people at work. Calm any shyness by approaching such discussions as learning opportunities, matched with your preparation skills. Bring a list of a few points to share and some questions to ask about the other person’s background, role, or leadership style. Ask for feedback from managers, team members, and customers. Strive to take away a few points that help build relationships or gain new perspectives on a person or team. Start a mentoring relationship or two. Being both a mentor and a mentee will satisfy your desire to learn… about yourself and about others. It’s a great way to give back to others and make a difference, too.

However: Avid learners can get so wrapped up in the thrill of learning that they can sometimes forget to pull back and apply those learnings.  Don’t forget to apply your learnings at work and at home so you can make the positive difference you are striving toward.

3. Loyalty

“Introverts paradoxically pull away from culture and create culture.” –Laurie Helgoe (psychologist and author, introvert)

“Loyalist” introverts are:

  • Team players
  • Advocates
  • Dedicated
  • Trustworthy
  • Respectful

If you’re a loyalist introvert, you are a strong team player. You believe in supporting other people, especially when such a bond is reciprocated. In your personal life, you may not have a huge number of friends, but you develop strong bonds with a few people. You are a dedicated family person who enjoys dinners together around the table with your inner circle and family games, camping, or vacations. 

At work, you believe strongly in the importance of the team. Building and maintaining team chemistry is important. This drives you to build closer relationships and defend your team and company against naysayers.

How to Strengthen Your Loyalty

People are often so busy they overlook loyalty. However, employees still crave that bond with teammates and managers. When you grow this skill, you stand out as a leader others want to work with. Grow your talents by leveraging your loyalty to develop important relationships. Be wary that not everyone respects loyalty as you do though. If people are not loyal or respectful of you, this may foster resentment, so be selective in sharing your loyalties. Spend time cultivating these relationships with one-on-one time to build close teams at work and family at home. 

You are a natural leader. Recognize that hiring people into your work or social “team” is one of your most important tasks. Bad chemistry can destroy your team. While you want a diverse group, ensure they, too, value trust, loyalty, and teamwork above all.

However: Be careful not to develop “blind” trust. It’s tempting to show favoritism at work, especially with those whom you have built a close bond with. Be sure to test their credibility, regardless of the source. And always ensure your loyalty is well-founded so you don’t make emotional decisions.

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4. List-making

“In all chaos there is a cosmos, in all disorder a secret order.” –Carl Jung (often considered the “founder” of introversion, introvert)

“List-making” introverts are:

  • Planners
  • Developers
  • Organizers
  • Managers
  • Structured

If you’re a list-making introvert, you are well-organized and a planner. You thrive on structure and schedules and use these skills to detail everything from household tasks to family vacations. You also enjoy setting family goals (like budgeting or quality family time) and work goals (like achieving particular sales targets or completing various projects), which help everyone stay focused. 

Planning may range from annual, high-level goals to weekly calendars and task lists to daily schedules to the hour. List-making introverts also like to arrange events, including home parties or work meetings. These plans provide the desired level of control over an often rushed and chaotic day.

How to Strengthen Your List-Making Skills

Preparation is the most prominent introvert strength. By continuing to strengthen this skill, you are able to tackle more tasks and projects, follow through on your commitments, and remain organized even during the most chaotic of times. Be sure to have a system. Whether you use a paper planner or online task list, such organization will provide you with comfort and alleviate the fear of missing deadlines or obligations. Use your calendar meticulously. Enjoy the freedom of scheduling meetings rather than having to do drop-in chats. But be sure to block off private time to ensure desk work and meeting prep time are provided, and that you have the chance to rest and reenergize during the day (you need your introvert alone time). 

Offer to arrange dinner parties or work meetings, too. Though such events can be stressful, being in control of attendees, location, and duration often helps reduce the chit-chat time. Planning them provides comfort and familiarity that can help calm the nerves during the event and builds rapport for the long-term.

However: Planning can become obsessive-compulsive. That’s OK, but don’t force such structure on others who don’t have this same need or passion for planning.

It all comes down to the fact that the world needs our natural introvert talents. Discover your strengths, practice them, and proudly lean on them to be part of the new age of leadership at work.

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“I have finally realized, to be happy I don’t need to change myself, I just need to be myself.” -Steve Friedman When I wrote my memoir, In Search of Courage, I realized that the common thread of introversion I thought was a curse all my life was actually a blessing. For years, I wore a mask at work and coped with my stress by sacrificing my health and personal relationships. Now, I embrace my own introversion as a toolkit to become a happier me. My purpose is to help other introverts accelerate the process by which they discover their strengths and apply them to their personal and professional lives. I seek to inspire others to overcome past obstacles and find joy, pride, and confidence in life. I’ve retired from corporate America and enjoy sharing articles, books, quizzes, and resources through my website, BeyondIntroversion.com. I’m excited to combine my career experiences and my enthusiastic belief in introverts through my new leadership book, The Corporate Introvert: How to Lead and Thrive with Confidence.