Research shows that extroverts make up about 96% of leaders in the workforce. It’s not a very surprising fact when you think of your stereotypical leader – loud, boisterous, and able to command any room they walk in.

But there is the other 4% of leaders who are introverts. They’re quieter, more introspective, and prefer working on their own. There’s an obvious preference for extroverts in leadership positions, but by no means should introverted leaders be seen as any less than their outgoing counterparts.

Having had the opportunity to work under a few introverted managers, here are 5 lessons I learnt from them:

1. Reprimand quietly, praise loudly

Making a mistake is bad enough, but having it broadcasted to your fellow colleagues isn’t just humiliating, it’s downright demoralising.

An introverted manager I worked with recognised this. A mistake I made resulted in a $1,600 loss for a client that my company would have to refund. Similar errors had been made by others before, and I had watched other department heads berate their staff openly in the bullpen.

I braced myself for the same when I made the blunder, but was surprised when my manager decided to pull me aside into a private meeting room to reprimand me instead.

Because she was an introvert, she was vexed by the idea of having to admonish any of her staff in public where attention would be on them. So in hushed tones, she expressed her disappointment in my carelessness but also laid out a warning to be more diligent in the future. 

I was thankfully saved from the embarrassment, but I wondered if that meant this was how she dealt with both criticism and acclaim. I found out soon enough that this wasn’t the case. Whenever someone did really well on a project, she would highlight this during quarterly town halls, so the whole company would know of our good work.

This style of reprimanding quietly and praising loudly only helped to maintain morale within our team, which had the lowest turnover rates of the entire company.

2. Talk less, listen more

Another company I worked for was headed by an extroverted managing director, but my team was led by an introvert manager. Meetings that involved the MD usually meant listening to her talk non-stop for an hour, while the rest of us tried to get a word in edgeways.

But when it came down to team huddles with just our manager, he often let the rest of us run the meeting on our own, only stepping in to moderate when necessary.

As an introvert, one of his more obvious strengths is being a great listener, which he displayed during meetings. It wasn’t that he had nothing to say. Rather, he preferred the spotlight to be on others. Plus, he wanted to actively hear what we had to say that was often dismissed in bigger meetings with the MD.

He felt this was more beneficial for the team in the long run. As the team was working on the ground and dealing with the nitty gritty, they would know the work much better. If he was looking for solutions, it made more sense to turn to his staff than an MD that was out of touch with what his employees were doing.

3. Actions speak louder than words

We’ve established that introverted leaders prefer keeping quiet whenever possible. But just because they’re not talking doesn’t mean they’re not doing anything. 

Case in point, I had an introverted colleague, F, who was promoted to a managerial role. Many felt she was undeserving of the position, and voiced unhappiness that someone who didn’t speak much during team meetings was stepping up to lead them.

The manager above her quickly shut these naysayers down. She had reports that showed that beyond just excelling in her job, F was also taking initiative on her own to pick up the slack wherever needed.

As compared to some of us who were ready yes-men when accepting new team tasks from the boss, she was the one that would actually clear them without expecting anything in return. She didn’t need to say anything to let her superiors know that she’s a dependable team player. All she did was to show it instead.

4. Respond instead of reacting

Introverts are known to be reflective, needing time to soak in whatever information they’ve just been presented with, even in confrontations. This works exceptionally well when things get heated.

My introverted manager showed just that when a client was rude during a meeting. He was unhappy with the deliverables and swore at us. Any other person would have immediately reacted in the same manner and gone off on him.

But my manager took it in stride. He listened through the vulgarities to respond instead of reacting. He addressed where we had gone wrong and then offered solutions to make things better.

The result: the client was appreciative of how we handled the situation and even apologised for his behaviour. Eventually, he came back to work with us a number of times after that as well.

5. Trust employees to shine on their own

When Covid-19 hit and most had to WFH, a supervisor I worked with would constantly ping me on Microsoft Teams to ask what I was doing. While I was fine keeping her updated on the progress of projects, she crossed a line when she would also ask for a status on the unread emails I had in my inbox.

“Client X sent an email about your project 10 minutes ago. Have you read the email? What are you going to reply to them?”

These were some of the questions I regularly received. On top of which, she would also micromanage how I would write my emails, fussing over the minutiae like font size and colour.

Mind you, it wasn’t like I was an intern or a junior executive who might need more hand holding in such tasks. I was 8 years into my career at this time, but was still being subjected to micromanagement.

On the contrary, most of the introverted managers I worked for often left me to my own devices once I knew the ropes. Even so, their doors were always open if I ever needed help or advice on how to proceed on any task. As one manager put it, “I hired you for your capabilities and problem-solving skills, not your ability to copy exactly what I’m doing.”

I found that I worked better in such places when there was less anxiety from a manager that was constantly breathing down my neck. It gave me the independence to work things out on my own and innovate new solutions.

Lessons to learn from introvert managers

I’ve spent the last decade pursuing my career, which means I have come across every sort of manager you can think of. But it is the introverted ones that have left the deepest impression on me.

Even though they’re in the minority in leadership, they have proven that their way of leading is just as valid and effective as extroverted managers. If anything, it has shown me, an introvert as well, that I’m capable of leading a team too.

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Cover image adapted from: TheSmartLocal


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