The case to groom more introverted leaders

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I am an extrovert. To be precise, I am an ambivert (Kimball Young, Social Psychology).

Meeting new people, standing in front of a crowd and talking about your work, making small talk to make newcomers feel more comfortable at work - these activities come naturally at me. But I do find myself at my most creative and productive best in the wee hours of the morning, when no one is around. I also understand the fact that while I thrive at breaking the ice, a lot of talented people shudder at the notion of standing in a room full of strangers in a corporate event and usually pick a corner to settle in, than mingle with the crowd.

In my time working with one of the world's largest creative consulting agencies, I had an equal share of people like me and people, who prefer to be specialists in their craft and let their work do the talking. And as the practice grew, there was an acute void, which started taking form in the need for new leadership. Leadership not just in the form of extroverted generalists, but also people who can work silently and inspire thought leadership in their craft, and also pave the way for more people to follow suit.

Here is my candid take on how it can be enabled, and how you could adopt this in your organization too. I am immensely inspired by Susan Cain's TED2012 talk 'The power of introverts'  and her book 'Quiet', so I would like to build the case for putting together a few guidelines that companies could do well to groom, promote and retain great leaders, who are introverted and yet instrumental in helping build a great company.

Invest to communicate the need for a leader like them

Most introverted specialists in their craft tend to think that as they go up the corporate ladder, they will lose their proficiency in their creative or technology prowess. They also think that it would lead them to spend more time evangelizing and getting people to understand, what they bring to their workplace. It does not help that most organizations worldwide are still traditionally set up to promote and reward extroverted generalists.

So when I talk about investing, I recommend putting newer career paths, tailored learning programs that will help them thrive in their new role. Show the need for their existence, getting a seat at the executive table to represent their discipline. And also show them the promise, that they can continue honing their craft at that level and be a role model for similar people to follow.

Setup the Player-Coach model as a stepping stone

I know, I can imagine the crosshairs painted on my back when I talk about the player-coach model. Much has been discussed about the player-coach model in mixed terms. But the truth is most introverts in a multi-disciplinary setup like digital agencies always hold on to their current roles and dismiss the thought of being promoted, because they risk losing their expertise for people responsibilities.

The Player-Coach model eases the burden of losing touch, by slowly introducing these upcoming leaders on how they can groom members in a team to polish their skills and find their niche, by showing them how they did it in their tenure. In doing so, they learn newer ways of working not just with the team, but also with their discipline. As they grow, they can take up larger teams and responsibilities, but it is much easier to ease into a leadership construct than jump the deep end to become a generalist.

Give them time and space at the top

By this, I recommend that an organization make way for a more empathetic attempt to re-think executives in the realm of servant leadership. One, who would espouse, among the other values of servant leadership, the key tenets of empathy, awareness, and growth. An organization should enable itself to nurture such talent, which might not always be vocal, but let their work performance speak volumes. Once this happens, leaders of extraordinary talent, regardless of their personality type, would be able to make a powerful impact and in turn, make their organizations more successful.

These are my 3 key principles on enabling introverted leaders to thrive and succeed in the workplace, based on my personal experience. I would love to hear more about how your organization has succeeded in helping introverts thrive at every level.

Link to Susan Cain's book - Amazon USA

Link to Susan Cain's book - Amazon India