Karl Moore is associate professor at the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University in Montreal.
As introverts have become an increasing part of the leadership conversation, we are becoming more aware of their presence in the management suite, yet the vast majority of leadership literature seems to be written for extroverted managers.
For our research, we have interviewed over 300 C-suite executives and found that more than 30 per cent are introverts. At the middle- and first-line manager ranks, the number is closer to 50 per cent.
How our introverts manage has a very considerable impact on how effective our organizations can be. So this is to talk about three key ways introverted managers can be better managers for their extroverted employees.
The first is to see many traits of extroverts as considerable strengths, not weaknesses. A saying in business is that we don't value what we don't have. Yes, extroverts can get carried away at times and suck too much oxygen out of the room, but with a bit of judicious mentoring, their energy, enthusiasm, and creativity can add a great deal to the strengths of introverts.
Seeing extroverts as valuable members of the team with a different set of skills is a great start to effectively working with an extrovert.
The second suggestion is to recognize the introvert's need to take breaks when they take an extrovert approach. It is recognized in the academic literature that these breaks from stimulation allow them time to think and analyze – two of their great strengths.
Extroverts need breaks, too, but theirs are the polar opposite. After being by themselves for too long (as they would see it), they need stimulation or they get lethargic. So they head off to the cafeteria, yes, for caffeine, but even more so to chat with people, joke with them and restore their batteries. When they do this well, it makes them better managers and leaders because people share with them things that they might not learn otherwise.
Listening well is seen as one of the traditional strengths of introverts, and compared with extroverts, that's true. At the heart of my third point is that extroverts like/need a greater emotional engagement from listeners when they talk. Whether it is when telling a story or a joke, presenting slides in a corporate board room or putting forward a new idea in a meeting, introverts need to respond to the extrovert's energy to be an excellent listener.
Although introverts are very good listeners, they can sometimes tend toward what extroverts feel are passive listeners. As an extrovert gets excited and wound up with what they are talking about, they seek more active listening. When a listener sits there quietly, not responding, not feeding energy back, extroverts may feel frustrated and assume their ideas are being rejected. The introvert is thinking about and analyzing what the extrovert is saying, but to be a better boss and keep them on track, it helps to be a more active listener.
When a fellow extrovert listens, they nod, they lean forward, they smile or frown; they may not agree, but they are more fully engaged. You likely have colleagues that act like this, and at times you may feel like they are overdoing it. But extroverts feed off the energy of an engaged audience; this sparks their energy and allows them to perform at their best.
In this article I have suggested three key ways an introverted manager can better handle extroverted employees. I think you will find that if they follow them, their extroverted colleagues will thank them.