Why Introverts Are the Leaders We Need in Troubled Times

Introverts have the key skills that are much-needed in times of upheaval.

Before I became a leadership trainer, coach, and consultant, I spent a lot of years in the corporate world. Sixteen of those years were in leadership. They included two company mergers, a ginormous senior-leadership shakeup, multiple reorganizations, several client meltdowns, and a corporate headquarters relocation.

My team and my clients (internal and external) needed me to be a stable, calm, empathetic sounding board and resource when times were tough. It wasn’t easy. 

When layoffs were rumored and I worried that my own job was at risk, it was hard to present a calm face to my anxious team. When we were presented with a new, unfamiliar leadership team, it was a challenge to protect my people from their inconsistencies. When a client was melting down because something had gone wrong, I had to be careful not to turn around and direct their anger — and my frustration — at my employees.

I didn’t always succeed. Having to come back and apologize to an employee because I’d gotten inappropriately angry — okay, let’s be honest, I lost it! — was humbling, to say the least. Having to handle a client’s frustrated rage over an avoidable mistake sometimes left me shaking and ready to toss it all aside and quit. I didn’t have the tools then that I have now for managing my feelings in a conflict, and the introvert’s urge to retreat wasn’t appreciated by my boss or my clients.

Natural Born Leaders for Unnatural Times

In the years since, I’ve learned a lot about what it means to be an introvert. I’ve supported clients on all points of the introvert-extrovert scale, and I’m certain that “natural” leaders aren’t necessarily introverts or extroverts. Instead, both extroverts and introverts can be excellent managers and leaders — and, of course, either can be the kind of manager who drives us to update our resume!

These are not normal times. The global pandemic has upended our ways of working, shopping, being in community, and even being with family. It’s safe to say that the virus has upended our lives altogether.

Where possible, we’ve been sent home to work. Managers and leaders accustomed to being in the same office as their teams are struggling to figure out how to manage from home. Our employees are stressed about, well, everything: Will I get sick? Will I be laid off? Will someone I love get sick? Will the dog bark while I’m on a video call? How can I home-school the kids and get my work done?

Argh.

Introverts Have the Skills to Face This Challenge

And as introverts, we’re supposed to be happy that we’re working from home instead of in the office. Yes, but also maybe no. Because introverts aren’t generally all that fond of having their routines disrupted — and right now, it’s hard to even have a routine at all!

But here’s the thing: Introverts have the key skills that are much-needed in these times of upheaval. From my personal experience as a manager in which I’ve worked for both introverts and extroverts and supported an array of clients, I know this:

Introverted leaders excel when it comes to hard, challenging, upsetting times. There’s something about the basic qualities of introversion that comes to the forefront when the going gets tough.

Why Introverts Are the Leaders We Need Right Now

1. Introverts know how to be appropriately empathetic.

Introverts (especially highly sensitive ones) tend to be aware of others’ experiences, and they’re willing to “go there” with people — to talk about what’s happening and offer support.

This doesn’t necessarily mean they hold everyone’s hand. Professional empathy — the type of empathy appropriate in the workplace — doesn’t include comforting, soothing, or coddling.

But many introverts have a natural awareness of what others are going through, and their ability to explore deep topics means they’re able to give their teams the space they need to experience their feelings — and then provide the support they need to move on with the work at hand.

2.  Introverts are self-aware and therefore self-managing.

The introvert’s innate tendency toward introspection means that along with understanding others, they also understand themselves. And that means many introverts are able to manage their reactions to stress and anxiety, thereby being the best possible role model for their teams.

But all introverts need an outlet where they can express what they’re feeling. Please don’t try to bottle it all up inside. Everyone needs a safe place to vent!

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3.  They tend to be open-minded and willing to listen.

Okay, not all introverts are open-minded!

But, in general, they are more likely to be willing to discuss ideas and solutions. Whether it’s their inborn desire to have meaningful conversations, or their genuine interest in other people, being able to listen to the team’s suggestions about how to manage a situation helps everyone engage and connect. 

Even more importantly in times of upheaval, many introverts feel at least a little bit in control, which is a great advantage when everything seems completely out of control.

4. They’re patient with the need for “think time.”

The scientific fact that introverts think first and speak second, processing internally instead of out loud, means they get it when someone pauses, hesitates, or seems to be searching for the right words.

Introverts are comfortable with silence and patient with “think time,” which in times of stress and high anxiety can be a blessing for our team. Even the most confirmed extrovert will welcome the opportunity to breathe and ground themselves without having to be instantly responsive.

5. Most important, they understand emotional labor.

If there’s one thing in this world that introverts understand, it’s the reality of emotional labor.

Being out in a crowd, going to a party, interacting with strangers and even with colleagues — it’s a drain on our energy levels. Emotional labor may not be obvious, but we know it can be exhausting.

Because of that, introverted leaders know the energetic demands of stress and anxiety as well as the energetic output required to support family and friends in difficult times. It’s exhausting.

That understanding combined with their innate empathy, self-awareness, willingness to listen, and patience with “think time” means introverts get that, in times of crisis and uncertainty, people simply aren’t able to be as productive as they would be in calmer, more “normal” situations. They’re able to acknowledge that there are unseen factors, above and beyond the obvious, impacting their team’s ability to focus.

So this is a call and a challenge to all the introverted managers and leaders reading this. Leverage your strengths. Be the leader your team needs right now!

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Written By

Grace Judson is a self-proclaimed leadership geek on a mission to help first-line managers and supervisors build the solid foundational leadership skills they need to succeed. She has a vision of a world where people wake up looking forward to their workday because their jobs are meaningful, interesting, challenging, and even exciting. Her big question is, What if work was more fun? Not just livable; not just bearable: fun. Work shouldn’t suck. The corporate life shouldn’t be a rat race. A confirmed INFJ, Grace is constantly learning -- and loves that she can knit whilst reading about leadership, psychology, neuroscience, and a host of other topics. Her website is brimming with additional resources for managers -- and she emerges from her introverted sanctuary to create a new video each week on YouTube.