Quiet Leaders— 5 Tips for Success

When introverts draw on their natural strengths as leaders, they often deliver even better outcomes than extroverts.

Many people don’t associate introversion with leadership, but quiet leadership is not an oxymoron. In research for my book, “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking,” I found many examples of powerful quiet leaders—from Rosa Parks to Steve Wozniak, Bill Gates to Mahatma Gandhi and Eleanor Roosevelt—who all succeeded as leaders because of their quiet temperament, not in spite of it. These leaders embody the strengths identified by the research of today’s top leadership experts who have found that when introverts draw on their natural strengths as leaders, they often deliver even better outcomes than extroverts

Introverts rarely rise to leadership for the sake of being a leader. They get into those positions when they care about a cause and people start to trust them, not because they have the loudest voices or larger-than-life personalities. People respond to people who have a true, authentic commitment to something, and a deep expertise.

Empowering Quiet Leaders Because they often do not intentionally seek leadership positions, introverted leaders can struggle with finding a leadership style that is authentic to their personality style. Here are five tips quiet leaders often find empowering:

  1. Know that the force is with you. Quiet leaders often deliver better outcomes than extroverted leaders, according to separate studies by both Wharton professor Adam Grant and bestselling leadership expert Jim Collins. Introverts are more likely to allow proactive employees to run with their ideas, and to focus on substance and strategy, rather than relying on charisma.
  2. Use your energy strategically. As a leader, you’ll sometimes have to step outside your comfort zone and do things that are exhausting for you, points out Cambridge professor Brian Little. The key, says Little, is to grant yourself plenty of “restorative niches,” in which you can recharge your energy and be your best self. This means you should plan your calendar carefully. Make sure a day of meetings is followed by a morning of quiet, heads-down work.
  3. Connect with employees your own way. Doug Conant, former CEO of Campbell Soup, is a shy introvert who truly loved and valued his employees. He’s not a natural schmoozer, so he found his own way of expressing appreciation: sending handwritten notes of gratitude. During his decade at Campbell, he wrote more than 30,000 of these personal notes and was beloved by his employees for his quietly humane approach.
  4. Schedule a time to walk the hallways. If you’re not a natural schmoozer, it can be easy to let the day go by without ever leaving your desk and talking to people. Schedule time every day to stop by people’s desks, ask them how they’re doing, and listen to their concerns.
  5. Use your solitude to make great decisions. Many great leaders say they resist the impulse to make quick decisions during meetings. Instead, they give themselves solo time to think and reflect, then return with a strong decision, and the courage of their convictions.

To help organizations unleash the power of quiet leaders, I started the Quiet Leadership Institute (QLI). Our mission is to help organizations harness the strengths of the introverted employee population, and to improve communication between introverts and extroverts. We leverage the latest research by partnering with an advisory board of leading business thinkers, including Adam Grant of Wharton, Amy Cuddy of Harvard Business School, and Scott Barry Kaufman of the University of Pennsylvania Imagination Institute. We’ve already worked with organizations as diverse as GE, Procter & Gamble, NASA, and the Dutch military.

To learn more, visit www.quietrev.com/quiet-leadership-institute or participate in our two-day, pre-Training 2016 Conference leadership seminar February 13-14,2016.

Susan Cain is an author, speaker, and co-founder of Quiet Revolution LLC, a mission-based company that offers parenting and educational services to unlock the power of introverts. Her book, “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” has been on The New York Times bestseller list for more than three years and counting. For more information, visit quietrev.com.