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Times are right for the strong silent type Add to ...

Tough times call for outgoing leaders who take control, shoot from the hip and lay it on the line. Right?

Actually, no. The times are right for reflective, consensus-building introverts to come to the fore as leaders, argues workplace expert Jennifer Kahnweiler, author of a new book, The Introverted Leader: Building on Your Quiet Strength.

Characteristic behaviours of introverts can be valuable qualities for steering organizations through a crisis, says Dr. Kahnweiler, president of Atlanta leadership coaching company AboutYou Inc.

These include their tendency to weigh options before acting, and to listen before speaking. Introverts also tend not to become emotional in public.

Extroverts, by contrast tend to take action first and think things through later, and talk, rather than listen, which can leave the people they lead feeling dominated and resentful that their efforts and ideas seem not to be appreciated, Dr. Kahnweiler says.

"Introverts offer real value because of their listening skills, quiet reflection and calmness, which is especially valuable in this economy, where everyone needs reassurance and a sense of order amid chaos," Dr. Kahnweiler says.

But introverts also have many characteristics that can stand in the way of their rise to the top, she says.

For one, they suffer from "people exhaustion," one reason they avoid working in teams. Because they don't like to assert themselves they have difficulty saying no. When they talk about themselves, they tend to undersell their accomplishments and, while they may have great ideas, they may not vocalize them. Since they avoid talking about themselves, they're hard to read and get to know, and their silence can create a negative impression, as sour or serious, she says.

"The natural tendency of introverts is to downplay their quiet strengths and let their ideas go unheard," she says.

And because of all this, their qualities may go overlooked and they can get passed up for promotion, she adds.

In fact, about 40 per cent of top U.S. corporate leaders score as introverts on behavioural tests - lower than the 48- to 55-per-cent range of introverts in the general population, according to surveys by the Center for Applications of Psychological Type in Gainesville, Fla.

Among introverts who have used their strengths to advantage are Prime Minister Stephen Harper, U.S. President Barack Obama, Avon president Andrea Jung, newspaper publisher Katharine Graham and tycoons Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, Dr. Kahnweiler says.

Introversion is a hard-wired orientation in people's personalities, so it's not something you can outgrow or nurture, she says.

However, on the basis of the consulting she has done with about 200 leaders who consider themselves introverts, she's found a set of strategies that more introverts could use to rise to the top. Her advice:


Winging it is not an introvert's strong point, Dr. Kahnweiler says. Her suggestion: Ask for agendas in advance of meetings so that you can know ahead of time where you might be able to make an impact. Prepare comments and questions you want to raise and consider practising what you want to say in front of a mirror so you can look and feel confident.


The longer introverts wait to enter a discussion the more easy it becomes to not comment at all, she says. Her suggestion: Try to make the first comment in a meeting or conference call, even if it is a summary or quick procedural question.


Introverts tend to wait to be asked their opinion, which can lead people to decide that they don't have anything to say, Dr. Kahnweiler says. Her suggestion: Make it a habit to present a new idea to management, co-workers and project stakeholders at least once a week. By taking the initiative in communicating, introverts become seen as more credible.


Introverts are most comfortable working alone and communicating by e-mails, Dr. Kahnweiler says. Her suggestion: They should get out from behind the computer and engage colleagues and clients face to face "because opportunities and promotions come from people knowing who you are personally."


Introverts, particularly in technical fields, want to keep involved in every step of a project. But this is a formula for becoming overloaded with work, especially in an era of belt tightening, she says. Her suggestion: it is important to find ways to offload tasks that are distracting you from work the organization considers its priorities.


Introverts need to think things through before acting, but anything that speeds the process will help them act more decisively, she says. Her suggestion: Many introverts find it helpful to take written notes through the day. Not only do they focus their thinking as they write, but the notes become prompts for comments and actions they need to make.


Because introverts tend to enjoy working solo, they often don't develop a wide circle of contacts, Dr. Kahnweiler says. Her suggestion: They need to expand their contacts to the whole organization and to others in the industry because opportunities and promotions come from people knowing your interests and how to reach you.


Introverts can feel dominated by extroverts who seem to dominate conversations, she says. Her suggestion: Learn strategies for getting your words in edgewise, even if it means using your hands as a stop or time out signal and calmly stating: "I'd like to make a point."


Introverts tend to abhor getting involved in office politics, Dr. Kahnweiler says. Her suggestion: Learn to play the game and who sets the rules because getting ahead requires developing alliances and influencing decision makers in the organization.


Because introverts tend not to display a lot of emotion, they can be seen as dour and unapproachable, she says. Her suggestion: Coming up with a good joke or telling stories involving personal experiences helps introverts crack smiles and break ice, so people will see them as more animated and approachable.


Introverts tend to hesitate to ask for what they want, Dr. Kahnweiler says. Her suggestion: Introverts need to be honest and direct about what they need and expect. "Or someone else will get what they want instead."

The purpose of the advice is not to change introverts into something they are not, she says. "They definitely have a set of traits that should be valued more than they are in the hectic, uncertain modern workplaces," she says .

"It's not a matter of changing their underlying personality, but adding some tools to build on their quiet strengths."


Introverts in the spotlight

Warren Buffett

CEO of Berkshire Hathaway

Considered one of the world's savviest investors

Andrea Jung

President of Avon

One of the world's most powerful business leaders

Katharine Graham

Washington Post publisher (deceased). Presided over the newspaper's coverage of Watergate

Barack Obama

President of the United States and the first black person elected to that post

Stephen Harper

Prime Minister of Canada

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