You Don't Have to Be the Loudest Voice in the Room to Make an Impact
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Diversity and inclusion are proven strategies that yield better financial results and greater, more meaningful innovation. Current discussions and programs focused unconscious bias related to diversity leans toward physical attributes such as gender, race and even fiscal ranking. Yet, truly inclusive leadership must extend beyond what people see to what people feel and how people think.
Morra Aarons-Mele, author of Hiding in the Bathroom: An Introvert’s Roadmap to Getting Out There (When You’d Rather Stay Home), and Matthew Pollard, author of The Introvert’s Edge, believe that the workplace does not treat or reward introverts the same as extroverts. “The modern workplace is a challenge for introverts, those of us with anxiety, or anyone who needs a little more control over the place, pace and space in which they work,” says Aarons-Mele.
Narrow definitions of what a successful professional look like tend toward the extrovert, particularly in money-making influencer positions. “Introverts are struggling to survive because they think they can’t sell, and avoid even trying. And there are introverted sales professionals who are trying but failing, because they think they have to act like extroverts, and those hard-core techniques just don’t feel comfortable for them, says Pollard.
Yet, introverts have so much to offer, if only a system of true inclusion existed. “Too many introverted professionals say they can’t pursue their dreams of a big career or owing a business because they don’t want to be ‘out there’ all the time’” says Aarons-Mele. Rather than waiting for organizational cultures to fully embrace introverts, there are six ways introverts can take their professional destinies into their own hands without the dreaded “fake it ‘til you make it”.
1. Be an authentic leader.
There is a common misconception that the best leaders are extremely social and outspoken. Yet, the skills that make leaders truly great are authentic to introverts. “Introverts tend to be good at listening, tuning in, solving problems and not feeling compelled to take up all the air in the room. These are amazing leadership tools that truly engage,” says Aarons-Mele.
2. Turn compassion into your superpower.
Sales organizations hire extroverts because they believe they are better at closing the deal. Pollard sees that belief as a myth that needs busting. “Introverts have a great deal of empathy. Once they get past the small upfront barrier of learning how to properly structure a sale, these strengths can be leveraged to become their superpowers,” says Pollard.
3. Upskill your communication acumen.
Contrary to popular belief, communication skills are as much nurture as they are nature. It’s just a matter of focus and practice. “When I coach introverts on how to pitch or sell, I work with them on owning their expertise and being able to clearly articulate their unique value and credentials, understand how best to deliver their pitch and convey the expertise, and then let their natural skill and ability to problem solve do the rest,” says Aarons-Mele.
4. Rethink meeting culture.
It is hard to ignore an extrovert. They are comfortable speaking up in meetings and easily share their ideas. Rather than putting an introvert on the spot, offer people managers a different way to extract the best ideas. “Managers can simply send an email saying, ‘Here are the questions I expect everyone to be able to answer at the meeting.’ Introverts will do what they do best: Prepare. They’ll comfortably answer the question, the manager will get a better answer and everyone wins,” says Pollard.
5. Find the environment that embraces your inner Yoda.
Introverts are skilled problem-solvers, a highly sought-after and rarely found capability. This is truly were introverts can have an edge. “Rather than trying to play catch up with extroverts, introverts should look for cultures that enable them to sit back, absorb and be Yoda-like! There is so much power in the person at the table who talks less but truly contributes wise and super strategic thinking,” says Aarons-Mele.
6. Challenge conventional thinking about networking.
In the modern workplace, “networking” is another way to say “relationship-building.” It’s not necessarily about quantity as it is about quality. “According to Dr. Ivan Misner, the founder of BNI, the largest networking group in the world, the top seven behaviors most appreciated in networking are listening, positive attitude, collaboration/relationship building, being sincere and authentic, trustworthiness, good follow up, and approachability. Many are strengths of introverts, especially listening, sincerity, authenticity, and trustworthiness,” says Pollard.
If you are an extrovert, the world is made for you. The best leaders will outlast their peers if they can truly master the art and science of inclusion. Embracing the traits that make introverts valuable innovators and workplace contributors is an opportunity for all leaders. These six points are as much for extroverts to embrace as they are for the introverted members of your team.