How to Lead an Introvert

introvert_observe-more-than-you-knowThe best teams are made up of very diverse individuals. They come from varied backgrounds, have different experience levels, and bring with them unique thoughts, ideas, and perspectives. Leading an introvert can be perceived as a challenge for managers who are disproportionately extroverted. You may not feel very connected to your introverted employees or feel as though they don’t participate enough in group discussions or projects. However, there is so much value in having an introvert on your team if you can identify and flex to their unique needs. Here are some tips for spotting the introvert on your team:

  • They say things like “I need to process that…” I was on a conference call last week where one person uttered this phrase no less than 3 times. And each time, the other participant on the call steamrolled right past the statement and continued flooding the introvert with more questions and requests. An introvert legitimately needs to process things internally before sharing their thoughts externally. You will never get the best ideas out of an introvert by dropping by their cubicle or calling unexpectedly and showering them with questions. To maximize your experience (and their comfort), give them a heads up that you’d like to discuss a certain topic beforehand. Something as simple as “Can I give you a call in 20 minutes to discuss the monthly report? I’d like your thoughts on…” can make all the difference.
  • They accept social invitations, but rarely show up. When you invite an introvert to happy hour, they might say yes initially but by the end of the day when their social energy is low, it’s very difficult for them to find the motivation to extend past their limited battery life. This doesn’t mean that the individual doesn’t like you or want to be a part of the team. They just need to go home and be alone for a while so they can recharge and return fresh for work the next morning. The reality is, oftentimes an introvert does want to join the party, but after a full work day interacting with coworkers, clients, and customers, there’s just not enough energy left in their tank to socialize. Don’t pressure an introvert to go past their social limits, and never punish them for not bonding with the team outside of work hours. To be especially kind to your introverted employees, when you have days filled with group activities, carve out time in the schedule for everyone to break away to reflect and recharge.
  • They communicate via tech. Yes, it may be more efficient to walk down the hall to your employee’s office to ask a quick question, but your introverted team member may feel most comfortable communicating in writing. Email gives an introvert time to read, process, and formulate the perfectly worded response and also keep a physical record of the conversation. This is a small, simple way that you can flex to your introverted team member’s style in order to maintain strong communication.
  • They’re late bloomers during a brainstorm. Introverts often struggle in a group problem solving or brainstorming activity, not because they lack ideas, but because they lack the time and space to process their thoughts before sharing externally. Unless they can see an agenda ahead of time in order to process their thoughts, they will often sit silently throughout the exercise while their more vocal colleagues take the lead. Then, an hour later, you will likely receive a follow-up email from the introverted team members with lists and lists of carefully constructed and well-articulated ideas. While it can be frustrating to receive a flurry of ideas after you consider a group discussion closed, try to focus on the value brought forth with the introvert’s ideas instead of the timing. INTROVERT-ENERGY-SAVING-MODE1
  • You only speak to them twice, once when giving directions for a task and again when they’ve completed the task. When you’ve assigned a task to an introvert and communicated it clearly, you likely won’t engage with them again until they’ve finished successfully. That’s one of the beauties of working with an introvert. They enjoy working on solo projects. When they hit a speed bump, they’ll work to solve the problem on their own before coming to you for help. From that perspective, an introverted employee is very low maintenance. They won’t pepper you with tons of questions, need reassurance that they’re on the right track, or expect public praise for a job well done.

Knowing and respecting the personal communication preferences of an introvert is like holding the keys to unlock endless potential. When given the space to think and a forum to share, an introvert can be your most valuable and least draining team member. But, to really be a great leader, it’s better not to make assumptions. Reach out to your employees to learn their personal preferences. How do they prefer to communicate? What gives them energy? What aspects of work are draining for them? Knowing what your employees need and being able to accommodate those needs will be the greatest gift you can give them.