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8 Ways Even Introverts Can Be Leaders At Work

Updated: Dec. 21, 2022

Is natural-born leadership really a thing? Communications expert, author, and coach Kristi Hedges, says introverts have just as much potential as anyone else to lead the pack.

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Why introverts can be leaders

If there’s one person who knows about leadership, it’s executive coach, communications expert, and author Kristi Hedges. She’s spent 25 years working with leaders to help them develop the skills necessary to effectively manage and lead their teams. And, yes, introverts have been included in her training with just as much success as others! In Hedges’ newest book, The Inspiration Code, which hits bookstore shelves this summer, she debunks common myths about leaders. The biggest one: There’s no such thing as a natural-born leader, so introverts are on the same playing field as extroverts. In fact, you’d probably never guess that these famous people are introverts. We talked to Kristi about some of the skills introverts already possess and how they can translate them into sharp, developed leadership skills in the workplace.

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Use your listening skills to your advantage

An introvert tends to be more comfortable listening that speaking. Although this sounds like a problem for someone who wants to be a leader, it’s an extremely helpful skill to have. According to Hedges, “Introverts tend to think first and speak second. They’re most comfortable going inward with their ideas before externalizing them. This thoughtfulness often makes them strong strategists. They will take the time to absorb information and find common threads. What might bore an extrovert, an introvert can find fun. Their quieter nature can make them easier to approach. They’re also comfortable giving a conversation space, and can be more adept at fully focusing on the person in front of them.” Consider your listening skills an asset, and make them work to your advantage. Taking everything in and processing it before speaking will ensure that your messages are thoughtful and based on precise information. Here are more hidden strengths of introverts.

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Observe and absorb

An introverted person who finds it difficult to communicate with others can develop more comfort speaking through observing. “Introverts are less concerned with talking just to talk, and therefore, when they do share something it’s sound and well-developed,” Hedges says. “It’s rare for introverted leaders to throw out half-baked ideas. They tend to be observers, as well. They notice subtle nuances that others may miss. They are often the ones who can tell you what’s really going on in a situation.” Observation skills not only help an introvert absorb information others miss, but they can also help introverts focus on what other people do well when communicating. Make mental notes of effective communication strategies others on your team use in meetings and work on mirroring those in your communications.

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Have a plan

Introverts may experience extreme anxiety in meetings, often waiting for the right moment to jump in with their ideas. Instead of waiting, Hedges suggests laying it all out there as quickly as possible in the beginning of a meeting. “It can benefit introverts to think ahead and have a plan. Challenge yourself to put your ideas on the table in the first few minutes, and at a minimum, get your voice in the room. The vibe of the meeting is set early, and by contributing then, you’re establishing yourself as an active participant. As an added bonus, people may refer back to your comments and offer additional ways for you to get heard.”

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Lead by example

Even though she may have a quieter personality than an extrovert, an introvert can still motivate others with her leadership. How? Hedges says it all comes from success. “Introverts motivate by being successful on their own terms and communicating what they’re doing,” she says. If you think about it, introverts comprise somewhere between one-third to one-half of the population, so it stands to reason that many introverts are leaders, or want to become leaders. “Role-modeling what leadership looks like as an introvert dispels stereotypes and motivates others to pursue their own ambitions,” Hedges says. “We’re drawn to people who feel comfortable in their own skin. The key is to own who you are.” Find out your defining characteristics with these quick personality tests.

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Focus on your core values

To be successful in leadership, it’s important that introverts start viewing their supposed weaknesses as strengths. That means focusing on the values that you most want to display in the presence of your team. “Write down a list of your top personal values, and narrow them down to a list of five core values,” Hedges recommends. “This can help you to be clear about what’s most important for you to convey.” Not interested in being assertive? Show confidence, resolve, or commitment instead—and that will do the same job. Here are some scientifically backed tricks to boost your confidence.

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Invite your team into your world

One of the biggest challenges introverts face is feeling comfortable in social situations. They may find it taxing to find new ways to connect with their team members because connection often means socialization. Fortunately, Hedges says it’s perfectly okay to let your team into your world if that’s what makes you feel most comfortable. “Invite the team to something that you would enjoy, like bringing in a catered lunch where you can casually connect and talk. Or if you’re a sports fan, have a team-building session at a game. If you’re relaxed and enjoying the moment, you’ll do a far better job of connecting,” she says.

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Get more comfortable being uncomfortable

Of course, it can be just as important to train yourself to step outside of your comfort zone as it is to feel comfortable. It all depends on your willingness to change current behaviors so you can become more at ease in anxiety-causing situations. According to Hedges, “what feels comfortable or authentic can change with practice. If you push yourself to try new behaviors, such as speaking in public, after a period of time it will become easier. What was once a foreign behavior adapts to become part of your core repertoire. We can all remember how hard things were starting out in our careers that now feel like second nature.”

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Make your presence known

Once you begin to master the art of speaking out and realizing that you can indeed be a powerful leader, start making your presence known to your team. “Introverts can spend a lot of time in their heads planning out scenarios and putting plans together. While this is a good skill to have, they need to be mindful that other people can’t see all that work being done,” Hedges says. “Teams want to see and understand what their leaders are focused on and consider priorities, so you’ll do everyone a favor if you learn to externalize your thoughts, values, and plans even if they aren’t finalized yet. “Make a concerted effort to let your team members know what’s a priority for you, and what you’re thinking about. Assume that others have no idea what you’re thinking, and you will generally be right. So tell them,” says Hedges. These inspirational quotes may give you the boost you need to continue to strive to be your best self in the office.