Leadership and success are often equated with being extroverted – they are for people who enjoy being seen and heard. But what if that’s not you? How should introverts navigate this era of noise, and what can we do to ensure their voices rise above it all?
Introverts come in many guises. World-famous actor Emma Watson says she is one. Microsoft founder Bill Gates and former US president Barack Obama have also both been described that way. But they are all so high profile, and seemingly so far removed from the archetypal introvert we all think of – someone who hates the limelight.
Of course, being an introvert is not the same as being shy and it is not about being anti-social. It is a personality type that has become rather misunderstood. Broadly speaking, it is about needing time alone to have moments of quiet thought. Introverts can find energy in themselves rather than other people, and often they have a quiet confidence, rather than the need for constant plaudits and cheerleaders.
Executive leadership coach John Burt believes that it is these qualities that mean introverts have the potential to be great leaders and colleagues. In a LinkedIn essay he writes: “They have the courage to be themselves while recognising the value of others and their contributions. People pick up on that, they appreciate it, and they’re naturally attracted to the charisma of a self-assured leader.”
Certainly, there is something reassuring about people who pause to think before diving in with an opinion. And introverts are often more self-aware and observant than their outgoing counterparts. Unfortunately though, many modern offices are not set up for them. Background noise, large numbers of people, having to make phone calls whilst feeling like you’re being overheard – it can be exhausting and inhibiting.
There is, however, plenty that can be done to help an introvert reach their full potential at work and often it comes down to enabling the right set-up. Career coach Patricia Ezechie suggests that people should understand their individual working style in order to succeed. “Our working style is how we like to work best”, she says. “It is how we approach our day-to-day tasks and projects, work with others and solve problems to do our best work.”
That could mean, for example, that an introverted person might need time away from the company headquarters in favour of some concentrated work hours at a flexspace closer to home. It could also mean that they want to book a quiet space to work, or find a desk in a corner where they don’t feel overlooked. As Ezechie adds: “I always suggest one of the first things to do when you join a new organisation, especially as an introvert, is to identify the quiet thinking spaces in the building … Find them and use them.”
We all need a bit of that quiet time at some point though, whatever personality type we think we have. As Dr Lauren Theresa, a psychology professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology says: “It is typical for a vast percentage of us to experience both introverted and extroverted qualities. I personally love the buzz of a social setting such as being out dancing, but I know that I need a good deal of time afterwards to decompress in solitude.”
Successful workplaces have to be able to offer that variety, in order to enable everyone to feel comfortable, inspired, and energised – all those things that can make an employee great. Bookable rooms with technology and furniture that is agile and movable enable people to personalise their space to suit.
Have great meetings
One of the best ways to empower an introvert is by running structured meetings. Writing in Psychology Today, Allison Abrams notes that our “culture disproportionately values loudness, often mistaking it for intelligence.” Structure means everyone gets to speak up, without having to shout the loudest (this isn’t The Apprentice). Whether you are meeting in person or remotely, understanding that people have different communication styles is important.
So it’s time to celebrate the introvert, in all of their brilliance, because their potential is mighty. They just need the right space to be able to flourish.
Get in touch to find out how Spaces can provide the working environments to empower the introverts on your team.