How Introverts Can Tap Into Their Leadership Superpowers

How Introverts Can Tap Into Their Leadership Superpowers

A common belief in the business world is that successful leaders are predominately extroverts: they’re outgoing, team oriented, expressive, and quick to act. We less often think of business-savvy professionals as quiet, reserved, shy, inward—qualities we typically associate with introverts.

But contrary to popular belief, introverts actually possess qualities that make them excel as leaders. So said Beth Beulow, career coach and author of The Introvert Entrepreneur, and a speaker at Booth Women Connect Conference 2018.

During a session titled “The Introvert’s Leadership Superpowers,” Beulow discussed these perceptions with a crowd of introverts. She talked about how introverts often feel like they have to fake being extroverts in order to achieve their professional goals, especially if they feel penalized for exhibiting introvert qualities.

For example, some introverts in the audience noted that their calmness and quietness have often been mistaken for disinterest or disengagement at work. In large team meetings, their ideas can be overshadowed by more assertive coworkers. To compensate, they may try to suppress their natural characteristics. But, as Beulow acknowledged, suppressing who you are is painful.

“The goal is for everyone to be able to claim exactly who they are so that we don’t have to diminish personality, but we know we can still accomplish things,” she said.

To do that, she said, introverts can tap into what she called their own unique “superpowers,” which include:

A desire for focus and a depth of understanding. “We like to go deep on a topic,” Beulow said. “Attaining mastery in one particular thing gives us a sense of identity.”

A preference for independent thought and action. This means introverts won’t necessarily just go with the flow and can be great at coming up with unique, innovative ideas.

A capacity to listen and connect with people one-on-one. This allows introverts to really get to know clients, coworkers, and employees, who will feel heard and understood.

A calm and steady presence in the midst of chaos. “We tend to be calm, cool, and collected,” Beulow said, which can help mitigate stress and anxiety in the office.  

A willingness to put other people and their visions in the spotlight. “We have a tendency to be behind the scenes, which is a really powerful place to be,” Beulow said. “We can catalyze and mobilize a lot of people that way, and we’re not taking the spotlight away from the team.”

An ability to retreat and reflect. Beulow explained: “We are willing to step away from all of the noise, gather information, and do some serious reflection on it so that we can take something really thoughtful and considerate back to the space.”

Beulow recommends that introverts lean in to the superpowers they already possess, rather than trying to take on qualities that feel uncomfortable or unnatural to them. She acknowledges there are times when introverts may have to be more forward than they’d like, whether it’s at a networking event, in a meeting, or behind a lectern. In these situations, she said, it’s helpful to think of introversion and extroversion as verbs rather than nouns—that is, as a choice in how we act, not a change in who we are.

“Right now, I am extroverting,” she said. “I’m projecting my energy outward, and I’m still doing it from my introvert core. It helps me to be more centered and balanced and calm with it.”

If introverts are given the space to honor their natural energy, Beulow said, they can be truly exceptional leaders. “It’s not about trying to fix your weaknesses,” she concluded. “It’s about saying, ‘What are you good at, and how can we do more of that?’”

Booth Women Connect Conference is organized by the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. The 2018 event brought together more than 1,100 professionals for an extraordinary day of bold ideas, spirited discussion, practical insights, and impactful networking. Join us for the next annual conference on November 1, 2019.

—By Melissa Brooks

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