Why you should engage and encourage introverts (and three ways to do it)

Between the open-plan offices and the daily team brainstorming sessions, the workplace is, increasingly, an extrovert’s playground. A collaborative team spearheaded by a Type-A leader (which, as it turns out, 96% of managers and executives are) is ideal for the more outgoing workers.

But for the introverted employees, it can be a nightmare – and a roadblock to their success. Here’s why.

Why introverts get left out – and why they shouldn’t be

In a recent article, the Economist suggests that companies’ quest to find innovation through open-concept offices and “incessant meetings” has led to work environments filled with noise and distractions – factors that make it near-impossible for introverts to thrive. “Companies too often forget that whereas extroverts gain energy from other people, introverts need time on their own to recharge,” it says.

Add that to the fact that the corporate world favours attributes like charisma, magnetism, and outspokenness. “Many companies unconsciously identify leadership skills with extroversion – that is, a willingness to project the ego, press the flesh and prattle on in public,” the article suggests. “This suggests that Donald Trump is the beau idéal of a great manager.”

But you’re ignoring your introverted employees, you’re missing out on great ideas. The same article goes on to point out the perils of overlooking certain employees based on their personality type:

“Many of the most successful founders and chief executives in the technology industry, such as Bill Gates of Microsoft, and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, are introverts who might have floundered in the extroverted culture of IBM, with its company songs and strong emphasis on team-bonding. In penalising other people like them, firms are passing over or sidelining potential leaders. At all levels of company hierarchies, that means failing to take full advantage of employees’ abilities.”

Research behind the power of introverts

None of this is brand new information. Research proving the profitable power introverted leaders goes back years. A 2011 study, for example, showed how extroverted group leadership can be ineffective in certain situations. In their study of 57 national pizza delivery chain stores, it was found that when highly proactive employees were managed by an introverted leader, profits were 14 per cent higher than in stores managed by an extrovert.

The study also explored the productivity of proactive college students, finding that when they were managed by an introverted leadership style, they were 28 per cent more productive.

“When employees were proactive . . . extroverted leadership was associated with lower group performance,” the study concluded, adding that introverts are more receptive to employee ideas and feedback. “Less extroverted leaders can develop more efficient and effective practices that enhance group effectiveness.”

In short, never underestimate the leadership abilities of an introvert. In an economy where creative thinking and innovation are vital commodities, encouraging all types of workers to thrive and contribute has never been more important.

“Very often, the person who speaks up more in a meeting, who is more vocal, who is more likely to attend happy hours after work – who just has a more visible presence – is perceived to be the type of person who makes a good leader,” says Kate Earle, Chief Learning Officer at the Quiet Leadership Institute in a Q&A.

“Introverts make very powerful leaders. They are very good listeners. They are very good at delegating and analyzing a lot of different perspectives. When they do move into leadership roles, they actually outperform their extroverted colleagues in some situations.”

How to encourage and engage your introverted employees

But how do you help introverts become successful leaders? Here are three ways to set the introverts in your office up for success:

1. Rejig your meetings

If your company is prone to bigger meetings where, as The Economist puts it, “the loudest voices prevail,” consider switching to smaller confabs where quieter members can be heard. Alternatively, arrange for an agenda to circulate before larger gatherings to ensure workers who want to talk don’t get pushed out.

2. Offer quiet zones

Giving introverts a place to recharge and gather their thoughts can have a huge impact on productivity – especially in open-plan office environments where workers (even the extroverts) feel on display at all times. There are plenty of ways to offer your team a sense of privacy, from noise-cancelling divider panels to soundproof booths.

3. Encourage them to lead

By simply offering introverts tasks that allow them to shine as leaders, you’re helping them to grow and develop – and show their colleagues what they’re capable of. “By the nature of their personality style, introverts are not really being identified or recognized as people who could really contribute to the ongoing growth and the future development of a company,” says Earle.

See also:
5 reasons why you should hire an introvert
How to be a good boss: 7 tips from an executive coach


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