Two women sitting at a table are seen in profile, as they are turned to face each other. The woman on the left wears a white button-up blouse and has her hair in a bun. The woman on the right wears a dark blue blouse with white polka-dots. She also has her hair in a bun and she is talking and gesticulating. A laptop sits on the table between the two women, and a coffee cup sits next to the woman on the right. Behind the women is a wall made of frosted glass.
One of the greatest strengths of an introvert is their ability to listen. This skill can be leveraged in order to encourage employees to share their thoughts and ideas more freely. — Getty Images/fizkes

Some of the top leaders of the business world today, including Marissa Mayer, Mark Zuckerberg, Warren Buffett, and Bill Gates, identify as introverts. Introverts possess many qualities that help them become great leaders, but they also can be great bosses by taking an introverted approach to hiring, mentoring, customer service, and other key management functions. Here are some ways that introverts can use their approach to be good bosses.

What traits define introverted leaders?

There are certain traits that enable introverted bosses to bring out the best in their employees. Generally speaking, introverts possess many skills that make a successful leader, including:

  • Cross-cultural communication skills.
  • Resilience, adaptability, and resourcefulness.
  • Conflict management skills.
  • Being visionaries and strategists.
  • Business acumen.
  • Ability to remain calm under pressure.
  • Ability to manage change.
  • Excelling in team empowerment and growth.

[Read more: How to Be a Great Boss Even if You're an Introvert]

Many people have both introverted and extroverted moments, but those who gravitate towards introversion tend to be known for their empathetic approach to relationships and thoughtful decision-making. Here’s how introverted bosses can translate their leadership style into great management.

Take a hands-off approach

William McKnight, the former chairman of the board of 3M, strongly believed in hiring good people and then leaving them alone. McKnight instituted what became known as the 15% rule: 3M employees were allowed to spend 15% of their hours working on passion projects. This is a rule still practiced today at 3M and many other innovative companies.

This managerial style avoids the risk of micromanagement and can inspire better innovation. Introverted managers are more comfortable letting employees work individually without interruption. The results are clear. Google, one of the companies that adopted the 3M approach, has benefited from a host of new products—including Gmail and Google Glass— as a result of empowering employees to explore areas of interest to them.

Introverted managers know when to go home, and as a result, they’re more open to employees who also need that flexibility.

Create a proactive workplace

Research from Harvard Business Review found that when team members take the initiative, extroverted leaders are more likely to feel threatened.

“When employees champion new visions, strategies, and work processes, they often steal the spotlight, challenging leaders’ dominance, authority, and status,” wrote Francesca Gino in HBR. “As a result, extroverted leaders tend to be less receptive: They shoot down suggestions and discourage employees from contributing.”

Conversely, introverted leaders are more willing to listen and consider suggestions. This position leads to a more proactive, engaged team. Introverted bosses can use their strengths to bring out the best in others.

Communicate your preference for listening

Introverts are known for being good listeners. This skill can help them connect with employees and earn their trust.

Doug Conant, the former CEO of Campbell Soup Company, was known for practicing introverted leadership. He realized early in his tenure that he would need to be more transparent about his specific leadership style so that people understood that he was busy listening and thinking.

“One of the best ways I've found to help people overcome their discomfort around my behavior is to simply declare myself. I tell them, ‘If you see me looking aloof, please understand that I'm shy, and I need you to call me out.' By declaring myself in this way, I've found other people quickly, and compassionately, adapt to my style,” Conant wrote.

Another one of his tactics was to write handwritten notes of appreciation to his employees. He wrote over 30,000 in his tenure. Conant not only achieved positive financial results with Campbell, but he also increased employee engagement by 30%.

[Read more: How Can I Be Myself and Still Be a Great Boss?]

Emphasize work/life balance

Introverts need time to recharge. Pushing beyond your limits can lead to burnout and poor morale. The same is true for your employees, and the importance of a healthy work/life balance is something that extroverts, introverts, and ambiverts alike can agree on.

Introverted managers know when to go home, and as a result, they’re more open to employees who also need that flexibility. Be willing to make a balanced work day and embrace remote work, flexible hours, or accommodating schedules for those team members who need to find balance.

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Published September 06, 2022