August 21, 2019

Practicing Leadership as an Introvert

Posted by Molly Longstreth

In higher ed, the weight of the word “leadership” has ballooned over the years, with growing pressure for undergraduate as well as graduate students to somehow demonstrate the quality. Given the challenge of breaking into the workforce after graduation, it does wonders to have a strong quality like leadership help boost a resume.

Now, some people are born with leadership qualities, some get unexpectedly thrown into the position, while some people crave it. But what about those individuals who don’t feel like natural leaders? Who prefer to achieve results through their individual efforts and keep to themselves? Who think “introvert” identities are in conflict with “leader” status?

There will eventually come a time in these introverts’ lives when they will have to take the reins. They may not even realize it, let alone be prepared for it. So how does one, namely a reticent introvert, prepare for it? They look for the qualities of good leadership woven into everyday actions, which opens opportunities for practice. Consider how an introvert can build leadership qualities through the following everyday actions:

Observe: If you’re an introvert, maybe you have strong powers of observation, which is a very necessary skill for leaders. If a group is moving inefficiently or in the wrong direction, finding the reason for the problem is only possible through observing everyone and the dynamics between them. Being aware of the state of the collective and the individuals helps with being objective. Things to look for in other people include behavior patterns, motivations, situations when they’re at their best or worst, tics, body language, favorite words, and minor likes/dislikes. Leaders try to bring out the best in their teams, which is only possible by knowing the what, when, how, and why behind everyone’s best work.

Reflect/Adapt: Good reflection should be a massive effort. Self-reflection itself is often a long and taxing process, let alone reflection in the context of everyone around you. But understanding your own force in the team dynamic is critical for proper communication. Don’t be surprised if you can’t encompass everything in your head! It never hurts to write or map it out in front of you. (Pro-tip: Keeping old reflections and thought maps helps you see changes over time and what does/doesn’t work.)

Communicate/Persuade: Do you think there’s a way to make a change for the better? Or a way to fill a hole that requires everyone’s effort? Proposing a change can be awfully nerve-wracking for an introvert, but it’s best not to overthink it. Being frank doesn’t have to be painful on either end. Chance favors the prepared mind – you’ve already thought about everyone, and maybe a course of action (or a small tweak), but there may be times where going the extra mile in preparing the delivery is necessary. Whether it’s to get through to a difficult colleague or settle your nerves, preparing your phrasing and timing can prove helpful.

Compliment: Just do it. It builds relationships, a better atmosphere, self-esteem, and productivity. If you see someone who could use an ego-boost, give them a compliment! Although it is possible to overdo, that problem is quite rare; often there is nothing to lose and everything to gain by saying something nice.

Be YOUR Best!: Effort is palpable. Sometimes just seeing a good role model or diligent teammate is all it takes to motivate someone else to perform well. If you work on improving your leadership skills, people around you will feel and appreciate it.

Annette Kang, Talent Pool Intern, American Geophysical Union.