Introverted Leadership: The New Charisma

Introverted Leadership: The New Charisma

Dark haired female in a light suit jacket and white blouse, smiling, in office environment

The world needs more introverted leaders!

“How so?”, you may ask.

Well, let’s think about this. What is a leader?

Take a few moments to think back in your life. Who stands out as the best leader you ever had? It could have been a supervisor or a senior manager at work, or perhaps someone in your community. Or maybe it was a sports coach or a teacher when you were a kid.

When you think about them, how they acted, how they showed up, what made them a great leader?

What did they do that makes you think about them this way?

We’ve asked this question many, many times on our leadership programs, and here are some of the most common answers. Which ones resonate with you?

  • Provides clarity
  • Is empathic
  • Believes in you
  • A great communicator
  • A great listener
  • Holds people accountable
  • Is visionary
  • Is honest and transparent
  • Holds self accountable
  • Is a good coach
  • Is patient
  • Is genuine and authentic

Another question we ask is, “What leadership attributes are essential in your workplace today to build equity and inclusion?”. Here are some common responses.

  • Is genuine – is known, trusted, and authentic
  • Is aware – notices and listens
  • Builds trust
  • Is consistent in their messaging
  • Builds alignment within teams and across workgroups
  • Builds relationships and connection
  • Seeks to understand the other’s perspective
  • Meets people where they are at and suspends judgment
  • Is aware of and manages their biases
  • Calls in unhealthy and unacceptable behaviour
  • Recognizes people for their commitment, hard work, accuracy, and day-to-day input
  • Is consistent in how they show up
  • Is accessible and visible
  • Cares for other’s wellbeing and success

When you look at these two lists of inclusive leadership attributes, the majority of these are qualities that introverts can excel at. Yet many introverts are overlooked for leadership positions because there still remains an urban myth that leaders need to be extroverted. The perception is that we are not capable of being charismatic, highly engaging, powerful speakers who are able to ‘rally the troops’ - qualities only usually attributed to our extroverted cousins.

Of course, there are times when these skills are absolutely necessary, and some introverted leaders have learned how to lean deeply into these. And leadership is so much more than leading from the front. In fact, most leaders today need to be strategic and inclusive, leading from behind or from within, to elevate their teams through vision and insight, and by connecting with each team member at a personal level.

“Today's leader needs to be inclusive as well as strategic, able to connect with each member of their team.

The Role of Introverted Leaders In Today's World

A diverse team of 5 people including a young male and young femaled of colour in deep discussion sat at table scattered with papers

Let’s explore why organizations need to value and develop their introverted leaders who naturally exhibit inclusive skills, attitudes and behaviours.

Most organizations today understand the importance of building a diverse, equitable and inclusive culture, and recognize that building inclusive leadership at all levels of the organization is not just desirable, but essential. Inclusive leaders have the insight and awareness to lead the challenges of the future of work, and the societal issues facing organizations today, including:

  1. Innovation: Innovation and creativity are key drivers of success in today's rapidly changing business environment, where innovation can help companies quickly adapt to new technologies, customer preferences, and market trends. Inclusive leaders have the insight, awareness and empathy to harness the power of diversity to drive innovation by bringing together people with different perspectives and ideas.
  2. Diversity and Inclusion: In today's globalized and diverse world, organizations need to have leaders who can create an inclusive work environment where everyone feels valued, respected, and supported. Because they understand and appreciate the unique perspectives, backgrounds, talents and strengths of their employees, inclusive leaders demand, advocate for, and implement policies and practices that specifically create a diverse, equitable and inclusive culture.
  3. Talent Retention: Organizations need to attract and retain top talent to maintain their competitive advantage, improve productivity and performance, save costs, and boost employee morale. Retaining talented employees is an investment in the organization's future success. Inclusive leaders know how to build a workplace culture that is welcoming and supportive, and they value the importance of retaining employees from diverse backgrounds.
  4. Employee Engagement: Engaged employees are more committed to their work and are more likely to contribute to the organization's success in the long term. Inclusive leaders are skilled in driving employee engagement by creating a sense of belonging and purpose, which in turn helps employees to feel included and valued, and therefore more likely to be motivated, productive, and committed to their work.
  5. Social Justice: There is a growing awareness of social justice issues, such as systemic racism, sexism, ableism, and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Organizations need to be aware of these social injustices to protect their reputation, attract and retain talent, build customer loyalty, comply with laws and regulations, and fulfill their social responsibility. By taking a stand on social justice issues, organizations can create a more equitable and sustainable world while also benefiting their bottom line. Only inclusive leaders have the foresight, compassion and courage to address these issues and create a workplace that is free from bias and discrimination.

So what does this mean for your organization in terms of delivering on today’s demands for attracting and retaining talent, and for addressing the inequities and non-inclusive behaviours in your organizational culture?

What does it meant for you as an introverted leader or as an introvert who wants to step into a leadership position?

“Introverted leaders naturally exhibit inclusive skills, attitudes and behaviours.”

How Introverts Are Naturally Charismatic

A female leader in a suit with mid-brown to dark blonde hair leans into a discussion with their diverse team sat around a table

Charisma is often associated with extroverted behavior, but powerful, introverted leaders have their own unique style of charisma.

What is charisma? Charisma is a quality that refers to an individual's ability to attract and influence others through their personality, charm, and confidence. Charismatic people have a certain magnetic quality that draws others to them and makes them seem both likable and influential. They are often described as having a powerful presence or aura that captivates and inspires others.

Charisma can manifest in many different ways, and it is not limited to any specific personality type or leadership style. Charismatic leaders possess qualities such as confidence, assertiveness, warmth, humour, intelligence, and authenticity. They are predominantly skilled communicators who are able to connect with others on an emotional level and build strong relationships based on trust and respect.

Here are some ways introverted leaders are naturally charismatic:

  1. Deep listening: As introverts we are often great listeners, which is a powerful tool for building rapport and influence. By actively listening to others, we can demonstrate our leadership excellence through our empathy, understanding, and a genuine interest in our colleagues' perspectives.
  2. Authenticity: Because introverts tend to be introspective and thoughtful, we often portray an aura of authenticity and sincerity. By being true to ourselves and our values, our introverted leadership can quickly establish trust and respect among our colleagues.
  3. Preparation: As introverts we often prefer to prepare carefully for meetings and other interactions. This ensures we feel confident in discussions, and appear knowledgeable and build confidence of our abilities in others. By taking the time to prepare, we can allow ourselves to articulate our ideas clearly and persuasively, which helps us build influence and credibility.
  4. Thoughtfulness: Because introverts prefer to reflect deeply on complex issues, we often have a reputation for thoughtfulness and intelligence. By sharing our insights and perspectives, as introverted leaders we can inspire others and provide valuable guidance and mentorship.
  5. Calmness under pressure: Introverts tend to be calm and composed under pressure, which can be a powerful asset in challenging situations. By staying focused and level-headed, as introverted leaders we can provide stability and guidance when it is most needed.

As introverted leaders who are seeking to motivate and inspire our teams, we can tap into our natural charisma to articulate a compelling vision and inspire others to work toward a common goal, and to build a sense of loyalty and commitment among our teams.

“Charisma is not limited to any specific personality type or leadership style.”

How Do You Hold Yourself Back As An Introverted Leader?

Grey haired male in dark suit jacket and dark red tie seated at office table gazes out of office window

Which of the following common ways introverts hold themselves back from being seen as a powerful leader, resonates with you?

  • Because you don’t need to be the centre of attention, and often feel uncomfortable in the spotlight, you can shy away from opportunities to showcase your leadership abilities, or you struggle with consistently finding the energy needed to lead larger teams. By preferring to work behind the scenes or letting others take the lead, you are likely limiting your visibility which in turn doesn’t help others see your impact.
  • Perhaps one of the common criticisms levied at you is that you don’t speak up in meetings or in other types of group settings such as networking events – and to be fair, this criticism is often valid! While you often have great ideas, you hesitate to share them, usually because you’re too humble about your abilities and opinions so you don’t think your input is that valuable or important, or because you struggle to interject particularly when there are louder folks hogging the limelight. This can be causing you to miss out on opportunities to contribute to important decisions or initiatives, as well as share your usually deep and important insights.
  • Or you often avoid the opportunity to network and build relationships with others outside your immediate circle. This is likely limiting your exposure to new ideas, opportunities, and perspectives, and may hinder your ability to build support for your ideas and initiatives, or to be considered for stretch assignments or promotions.

These introvert challenges are usually perpetuated by overthinking and self-doubt, which can hold you back from taking the risks or bold decisions demanded of you as a leader. You may spend too much time analyzing a situation from every angle, or not be proactive in sharing your concerns for fear of being seen as either weak or unsupportive of decision-makers. This can actually end up becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy where you end up being perceived as indecisive, and actually slow down the decision-making process.

For a deeper exploration of these and other challenges we often experience, check out our blog posts "From Quiet to Confident: How to Make Your Voice Heard in Meetings" and "From Hiding to Shining: Mastering Social Awkwardness Like a Pro".

Introvert challenges are usually perpetuated by over-thinking and self-doubt.”

From Being Overlooked to Stepping Into Your Brilliance

Here are some strategies that you can adopt to prevent you from being overlooked in your career in future:

  1. Allow yourself to be visible: If you are hiding your talents, gifts, ideas and leadership potential, don’t be surprised that you get overlooked. As much as you may want decision-makers to recognize your natural leadership capability without you making it obvious, people judge others by their behaviours not by their intentions. Your performance and career potential is your responsibility, so stretch your comfort zone by taking on roles that require you to be more visible, by volunteering to lead larger meetings, and by sharing your wisdom at meetings.
  2. Share your wisdom at meetings: By preparing ahead of time, and being present in meetings, you can connect in a more meaningful way with the subject and discussions, and feel more comfortable sharing your ideas. Use your ability to listen deeply to ask thoughtful questions that show you are engaged and contributing to the conversation. Click here to download your free ‘In The Moment’ guide to shine in meetings – specific steps to take during meetings that bring your quiet intelligence into the spotlight.
  3. Flex your relationship-building muscle: Build relationships and connections outside of your usual circle by identifying strategic relationships with a few key individuals, rather than trying to network with everyone. Attend smaller, more intimate events where you feel more comfortable and can have more meaningful conversations. Trust that people want to connect with you too.
  4. Build your self-trust: Trust your leadership capability. Check the lists of inclusive leadership skills at the beginning of this blog post – which of them do you know you have, be honest and don’t be humble! If you are truly an introvert, it is probable you are highly skilled at many of them. Also, practice making decisions more quickly and confidently by setting clear criteria for decision-making and trusting your instincts – connect with trusted colleagues or mentors and seek their feedback, support and recognition too.
  5. Expand your empathy to the broader group: Rather than getting overwhelmed by the perceived social demands of leadership, view these demands from a different perspective. How can you build individual connections across workgroups using your natural empathy and desire to help everyone succeed? Remember to communicate clearly and consistently with all team members to build trust and rapport.

Remember, the skills of introverted leaders are invaluable in today's world, where the pace of change is rapid, and the need for thoughtful, creative, and adaptable leadership is more important than ever. Recognize and stretch into the times when you need to step fully into your natural charisma and find ways to manage and reduce your overthinking and self doubt.

Also identify the people in your organization who make decisions about your organization's leadership pipeline. Who do you need to build connections with, demonstrate visible leadership to, and influence through your insight, awareness and empathy?

Ultimately, you always have a choice. Sometimes we have to accept that perceptions of those who overlook our abilities are outdated and may never change. In today’s ‘war on talent’, there is an organization out there who gets you, who values your inclusive leadership skills, and who wants you to help them build their organizational culture.

To explore more about the exceptional skills of introverted leaders, and the challenges we are so often up against (and why), check out our 2-part blog post 'Introverts Don't Make Great Leaders - Wrong!' and Who Decided Introverts Don't Make Great Leaders?.

Click here to download your free ‘In The Moment’ guide to shine in meetings – specific steps to take during meetings that bring your quiet intelligence into the spotlight.