Why it's time for introverts to take over

The trouble with introverts (and why it’s time for them to take over)

Peter Harris|

Being an employer of choice, Workopolis offers employee training and skills-development workshops to help staff advance in their careers. There’s a particular series going on right now just for managers (as the chief editor, I manage a team), that is aimed at helping the leaders of the company grow into their roles.

I appreciate the good intentions, and my professional reputation will likely take a hit for skipping out, but I don’t go. These sessions invariably involve forming impromptu teams to brainstorm hypothetical problems and role-playing to act out challenging scenarios.

It’s not that I’m shy or lack social skills; those gatherings don’t make me anxious or uncomfortable. It’s just that the toll they take on me far outweighs any insights I might possibly glean from them. That’s because I am an introvert. As such there are some things that I can do really well, but rah! rah! team exercises and forced ‘social’ gatherings drain my energy and spirit.

That’s the trouble with introverts. We think that we have a job to do, and we want to be allowed to hunker down and do it well. Unfortunately most workplace gains are made through politics, not performance.

In her New York Times article, Susan Cain writes about how autonomous work that requires privacy has been all but replaced by “The New Groupthink,” which “elevates teamwork above all else.”

We’ve noted recently how narcissists who can easily speak highly (and at-length) about themselves get hired first and promoted faster.

Do you find people telling you to “come out of your shell”? Catch yourself leaving social gatherings early because you’ve frankly run out of small talk and would rather be alone with your thoughts than fake it? Those are clear signs that you might be an introvert, and it can be hurting your prospects.

Five ways that introverts are their own worst enemies:

    As I mentioned, we tend to stay out of the loop on office politics. In order to rise through the ranks in an organization, you need to know who the key decision makers are (and this doesn’t go by job title alone) and what they base their decisions on. You need mentors who are on their way up – and to distance yourself from those on their way out.

    Lack of self-promotion. People often talk about the need to ‘sell yourself’ to a potential employer in a job interview. Well, that selling process doesn’t end when you’re hired. To survive and advance in the modern workplace you need to keep marketing yourself and your accomplishments to the right people at the right time.

    If you arrive at the same time as the president, and she asks, “How was your weekend?”, an introvert is likely to answer something like, “Great, thank you. And yours?” There’s nothing wrong with that, but a far more strategic (and extroverted) answer would be to say, “Great! I was just going over the month’s results last night, and the new initiative my team has been experimenting with is really paying off. We’re up by xx%.”

    (Translation: I was working on the weekend, I’m bringing innovation to my job, and it’s driving increased success.)

    Because they don’t do that, introverts allow themselves to be easily overlooked. While the more socially outgoing coworkers are talking up a storm about their ideas and accomplishments, the hard work and achievements of introverts can be under-appreciated because no one is trumpeting them.

    Not networking. People aren’t going to speak highly of having worked with you if they can’t actually remember working with you. Part of the real career currency that we earn at every job is the network we build up, the connections that we make. Introverts are too often willing to miss the opportunity to bond with people outside of their immediate circle and to keep in touch with former employers and colleagues.

    We also tend to avoid group events where we do not know the agenda or what our role will be. (Such as my avoiding three-hour ‘role-playing meetings’ that would allow me to connect with managers across the organization.)

    Not speaking out in meetings. Introverts don’t love meetings. Meetings too often seem to drag us away from actually getting things done to go and sit in a room with a group of people to talk about how we’re going to get things done. Speaking up in meetings only prolongs them, and can therefore appear to be counter-productive. But it’s the best way to get your opinion heard (and show that you have relevant opinions), and to demonstrate leadership abilities. It may not be intuitive for introverts, but it is essential to speak out in meetings.

Why it’s time for introverts to take over

Introversion isn’t shyness, and it doesn’t indicate a lack confidence. Quite the contrary, introverts simply don’t depend on other people to validate their personalities or the choices they make. They don’t need to do all of the talking. Introverts are active listeners, and therefore frequently notice details that others don’t.

Introverts are curious, they question, and they learn. This breeds innovation and improvement. They’re self-reflective and know their own strengths and weaknesses. This helps prevent mistakes.

Studies show extroverts are better at leading passive employees because they have a knack for motivation and inspiring. But those kinds of teams, where disengaged workers need to be spurred on by a dynamic and forceful leader aren’t the way the world of work is going.

In an economy where creative thinking and innovation are increasingly important to success and survival for businesses, having a leader who cultivates these can be vital. Introverts are better at leading proactive teams because they listen to others and allow people to run with their ideas. More innovations and creative idea-sharing can be produced when leaders are willing to listen to others rather than simply doing all of the talking themselves.

As natural readers, writers and one-on-one communicators, introverts are also uniquely gifted for the new internet which is interactive and personal. (See: 8 Reasons Why Introverts Rule the Interactive Age.)

The guy who speaks the most and the loudest doesn’t always know what he’s talking about. Introverts may not instantly own every room they walk into, so they aren’t likely the first names discussed when reviewing ‘up-and-comers’ at the company, but it’s their creative thinking and strategic focus that will drive future success.

Introverts, let’s not unite. We have too much work to do.

(Oh, and as the training session I ditched most recently was a three-hour seminar on Time Management and Setting Priorities, I think I should get an automatic A on the topic for not going, and for y’know … doing my job.)

See Also:

Who wins, introverts or extraverts?
You’re right pessimists; you’re really not likely to succeed
The bullies are being rewarded at work (and what you can do about it)

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Peter Harris
- Peter Harris on Twitter

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