Businesswoman giving a presentation.
Like it or not, public speaking is a common task for those in leadership roles. But even the most introverted speaker can learn to conquer it. — Getty Images/Cecilie_Arcurs

In the business world, extroverts are more expected to serve in leadership positions because they’re more outspoken public speakers and more commanding in meetings. However, some of the biggest companies on the planet were founded and led by introverts, including Jeff Bezos, Tim Cook and Bill Gates.

In fact, research from Harvard Business School suggests introverts can be better leaders than extroverts, especially if they are leading proactive employees. If you are introverted, there are unique traits you can take advantage of to be a leader. Here are five things you can do to be a successful leader, even if you’re an introvert.

Embrace the power of listening

While introverts typically don’t like to speak up as much as extroverts, they are better on the flip side of the conversation—listening and processing information. In leadership, they can use listening to take more suggestions from others and implement the best ideas.

“Listening comes more easily when you spend less time talking,” entrepreneur and author Jeff Booth wrote in Fast Company. “It isn’t just about hearing someone’s words—either a good listener pays attention to the deeper message that’s not being said and develops empathy for the person speaking. This can pay real dividends inside businesses, even if they’re harder to see from the outside.”

Give yourself time to process information

While extroverts are more likely to move quickly upon finding out data or news, introverts typically need a little more time to take in information. Thus, it’s crucial for introverted leaders to read materials well in advance before meetings and plan talking points.

“Introverts will have a response after they have mulled over data and planned what they want to say,” Loren Margolis, founder of Training & Leadership Success LLC, told Forbes. “This tendency affects how you are perceived at meetings or other situations that require you to have a snappy comeback or speak up quickly. Get the agenda in advance and think about the topics that will be covered before the meeting. Write down your thoughts and prepare your speaking points.”

Forcing yourself to practice your public speaking and off-the-cuff conversation skills can benefit you in all areas of your life.

Jayson DeMers, CEO of EmailAnalytics

Block off adequate time to recharge

Introverted leaders often feel drained from large gatherings and days full of meetings, so they need to spend time away from work recharging their mental batteries. They can also encourage their employees to do the same to build a culture that respects breaks.

“Don’t respond to emails or voice messages during non-business hours,” Beth Buelow, author of The Introvert Entrepreneur and a professional coach, told Entrepreneur. “Take your vacation days, and put your phone on ‘do not disturb’ for an hour or two each day. This might have a side effect of creating a culture that gives your colleagues permission to do the same. The goal is to create a more respectful, efficient and effective work environment, where everyone feels like their individual strengths and needs are considered."

Get outside your comfort zone occasionally

Another critical way introverted business leaders can improve and be ready for any situation is to push themselves to do things they usually wouldn’t, such as practicing public speaking.

“Unfortunately, there will be times when you'll be in a room surrounded by extroverts,” EmailAnalytics CEO Jayson DeMers writes in Inc. “When you find yourself in these situations, it's important you don't give in to your natural tendencies to just let everyone else do all the talking. Taking a course like Toastmasters can be a great way to prepare yourself for times like this. Forcing yourself to practice your public speaking and off-the-cuff conversation skills can benefit you in all areas of your life.”

Surround yourself with groups of proactive workers

Finally, introverted leaders can do top-notch work when overseeing small groups of engaged and enthusiastic employees. So they should constantly be looking to hire these types of workers.

“In a dynamic, unpredictable environment, introverts are often more effective leaders—particularly when workers are proactive, offering ideas for improving the business,” Adam Grant, Francesca Gino and David Hofmann write for the Harvard Business Review. “Such behavior can make extroverted leaders feel threatened. In contrast, introverted leaders tend to listen more carefully and show greater receptivity to suggestions, making them more effective leaders of vocal teams.”

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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Published June 14, 2021