Aside from my former baseball dugouts, I’ve never been comfortable in a room full of people in my entire life.
Those who are energized by interacting with people will never understand the experience of discomfort for those who aren’t. They often think that we are aloof, shy, unfriendly, and don’t like people, when in reality, it’s just that our ease of disposition ends when the familiarity does.
In large groups, I have always naturally gravitated towards corners, and even in the 3,000 classes I’ve coached, and two seminars I’ve lead, I am still completely exhausted after they are finished. At seminars and certifications I attend, I am far more comfortable as a wallflower than I am networker and glad hander, and even today I still get partial anxiety every time I go to a gym gathering.
You understand if I have previously felt like an impostor when it comes to leadership.
But just hang with me.
Before I dive into my suggestions on introverted leadership, I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you that I am not in fact a true introvert.
In certain situations, I have no problem being an Alpha and asserting my opinions (leading our team, sharing laughs with friends, public speaking), yet in others, I want nothing more than to fade in to the background as a Beta (large groups, experiences with strangers, singular networking opportunities). If I believe something, I will say it, and I am incredibly comfortable at the wheel for Performance360. Always have been. At the same time, I won’t ever walk up to a total stranger and introduce myself, I prefer to spend my free time alone rather than in groups, and the idea of casual networking makes me exude awkwardness and anxiousness out of my every pore.
A behavioral paradox indeed.
So what gives? I thought that leaders were supposed to be, “Guy or gal who owns the room?” I thought they were supposed to be magnets for interaction, kissing babies and shaking hands?
Turns out, that isn’t actually the way all leadership works.
By way of Adam Grant, I introduce to you: The Ambivert.
I long struggled to label my personality, remaining perpetually self-aware of my strengths, weaknesses, and quirky nuances, but never fully connecting where I’ve been successful as a leader. Once I discovered that aha moment of the existence of what’s progressively referred to as ambiverts, it opened up my understanding and allowed me to truly gain insight into what makes me successful, and hopefully, you as well.
Ambiverts fall right smack down in the middle of introvert and extrovert, sharing qualities of each depending on the circumstance, and recent studies at the Wharton School of Business concluded that ambiverts are the most persuasive personalities and effective leaders. Even more than extroverts, who often get all of the credit.
At our last Coach’s Academy, one coach asked me about what qualities of leadership are most important and she was surprised to hear me say that charisma, extroversion, and personality size were three nowhere near the top of my list. Jim Collins of Good to Great bestselling fame additionally ruled out extroverted charisma as an important trait of high level leadership, finding no correlation between size of personality and workplace productivity when he examined all of the world’s top companies.
Turns out, I was no impostor after all, and neither are you if this sounds familiar.
“Many introverts – especially those in leadership roles – don’t fit the stereotypes of being timid and quiet. Many unexpectedly excel at activities like public speaking – though post-speech networking may be draining for them.”
Long believing that I was a pure blood introvert forced me to develop some purposeful leadership principles. After all, as someone without a gregarious personality or magnetic presence, I’ve never had, “Man, I just really, really like that guy” on my side. For better or for worse, I don’t have any breathing room to not lead well.
Traditional leadership doesn’t fail the ambivert personality, but they don’t address it either.
This is my playbook that I lean on to this day, and today, I offer it to you if you might find some similarity with anything I’ve described.
To be introverted or ambiverted is to be relatively weak when it comes to opening up to people who are anything less than your close friend or family. That’s not a great trait when it comes to effective management (not the same as leadership), so it’s critical that you compliment your weaknesses with the strengths of those who fill your holes. Without Julianne, I would be very poor, here.
Insourcing your weaknesses could be a number of areas depending on the person, but it’s up to you to be self aware enough to find and eliminate them through collaboration.
Understand what leadership really is.
Ultimately, leadership is putting people in a position to win. When people win, organization wins. That’s it. When I was caught up in trying to strike the balance of buddy and leader, I was poor at both. Letting go of my ego need to be “one of the guys and gals” allowed me to singularly focus on where I can be strong.
Putting people in a position to win and letting them do so.
Never be something you aren’t.
There’s a tactic in sales called the Chameleon Effect where you mirror the person you are selling. Leadership and sales are not terribly different in the fact that you must be able to effectively inspire. In sales, it’s a customer purchase. In leadership, it’s getting your team to follow you.
While I can’t speak to the Chameleon Effect from a sales perspective, I can try and urge you to never do this when it comes to leadership. You of course need to understand and be empathetic towards each individual’s outlook on life and what makes them tick, but not at the cost of sacrificing that same thing about yourself.
The Chameleon Effect is just a fancy term to justify being a fake ass person, and I don’t believe that fake can generate a following that lasts.
Recognition has always been a major driver of our culture, and I remedy that void of daily interaction by zooming out and ensure we celebrate the macro. Anniversaries, internal FCC leveling up of our coaches, and anywhere where else where a thirty thousand foot thank you is due.
I live by a less is more rule with recognition. Quality over quantity. Genuine gratitude and appreciation go much further than empty thanks in passing.
Less is more.
I do not have many interactions these days with my team for two reasons. First, overseeing three gyms and captaining its further growth pulls me in a number of directions each day. Second, my looming presence would only create distraction for Julianne to form strong bonds with our team and I would be handicapping her success as an effective manager.
When I do get opportunities to engage and lead, I make sure to do so efficiently and swiftly. I come prepared, and I ask that others do the same. The result is that we are usually highly productive (unless I’ve done a poor job of execution).
I keep a firm Twitter rule. If it can’t fit in 120 words, metaphorically speaking, then I need to keep refining the direction until I’ve got it right.
A focus on efficiency allows us to distill the message down to its most critical essence.
Embrace that direct communication is your best option.
I have never excelled at feedback foreplay, the kind of mindless banter that precedes the nuts and bolts of why we’re here. I stopped trying to force it long ago and the result is efficiency and clarity for those with whom I am meeting. I make a point to never be robotic or abrasive, but I don’t spend time chatting about things that don’t matter.
The downside to this is that I struggle to personally connect, and likely always will. For me, that’s a calculated loss because I am okay with it if it means I’m able to achieve workplace and cultural clarity through focused communication. Our teams know what we expect, and that they have autonomy to ensure its met.
No other fluff is needed.
Whether you are a true introvert or ambivert is a matter of splitting hairs. Both struggle in the same areas of human interaction and communication, and both can lead exceptionally well. Weakness does not preclude success. You just need to be aware of all influencing factors in how you will be perceived, and where you are strongest, and where you need collaboration.
To get a sense of where you land on the personality scale, go here.
Have further thoughts on introversion and leadership? I’d love to hear them in the post comments.