Leadership for Introverts

By Joe Taylor | Posted October 29, 2012

According to author Jennifer B. Kahnweiler, introverts think first and speak later, a characteristic American companies don't always equate with strong leadership. In some organizations, this leads to a perception gap: the incorrect assumption that an introverted leader has "tuned out" or has backed away from a problem.

As Kahnweiler writes in The Introverted Leader, many of us mistake introversion for shyness. Introverts don't suffer a form of social anxiety, as some extroverted managers might believe. Instead, successful introverts choose to place themselves in situations where they can play to their strengths. If you're an introvert who aspires to lead your team to long-term success, follow these five best practices.

5 Tips for Introverted Leaders

1. Get Typed

Many companies already use versions of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, a tool based on theories Carl Jung developed in the 1900s. Although the indicator's creators stressed that all sixteen "types" have equal value (see descriptions of the various Myers-Briggs types), strong introverted leaders often share the "INTJ" (introversion, intuition, thinking, judging) type: long-range thinking and a commitment to turning visions into reality. Even though your true personality is more nuanced than a simple Myers-Briggs type, knowing your classification and those of your team members can help you make better decisions.

2. Bring Teams into Balance

McGill University professor Karl Moore writes that the most successful introverts understand how to build strong support teams. An effective "INTJ" leader will often rely on extroverts with "ESTP" and "ENFJ" types, who use their focus on immediate results to execute a leader's plans. Likewise, an introverted leader might rely on an "ENTJ" executive or coach to help guide their progress within an organization.

3. Adapt to Your Surroundings

Moore also notes that successful introvert leaders understand how to build teams, companies, and even work spaces that account for the needs of people with different personality types. Introverted leaders require quiet space and time to unwind after personal interactions. Moore found that strong companies use a mix of personal and public spaces to help team members balance their work days. Introverts and extroverts who recognize and honor each other's needs can eliminate obstacles to success.

4. Prioritize Your Goals

Author Les McKeown writes that the best introverted leaders focus on accomplishing one important goal at a time. This attention to "serial success" instead of multitasking may run into resistance within organizations that get attracted to what McKeown calls "shiny new objects." If that's the case, introverts can compensate by delegating tasks or projects to strong contributors on their teams instead of spreading themselves too thin.

5. Focus on Results

Even if colleagues mistake you for being shy or awkward, they can't dispute your verifiable success. When Jim Collins documented the stories of some of America's greatest leaders for his series of successful business books, he observed that effective introverts preferred to build their company brands and let their earnings statements do the talking. But it's exactly the kind of focus that delights shareholders and customers for the long haul.

Even though most of our corporate culture tends to shine the spotlight on loud, brash, over-the-top extrovert CEOs, a new appreciation for the skills and contributions of introverts makes today a great time for "quiet leaders." Use all five of these tips to build a strong team while growing your business.


Joe Taylor Jr. has covered personal finance and business for more than two decades. His work has been featured on NPR, CNBC, Financial Times Television, Fox Business, and ABC News. He recently completed a personal finance book entitled The Rogue Guide to Credit Cards; (Rogue Guide Books, 2012).

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