Quiet leaders are all around us. If you listen, you might hear them.
But quiet leaders have a problem. Many people have expectations that leadership should be loud, engaging, charismatic and extroverted.
These expectations can be a challenge for quiet leaders, as they strive to gain credibility and have their voice heard over the din of the busy workplace.
In this post, I wanted to provide some tips for the quiet leaders out there. After all, I’m a quiet leader myself. I’m not the most introverted person in the world, but I’m certainly on the quieter side of the scale.
Firstly, There Is No Such Thing as an Introvert or Extrovert
We often speak in absolutes, because it’s quicker and easier.
She’s an extrovert – he’s an introvert. It’s convenient to apply that label.
But the reality is that introvert and extrovert traits lie on a spectrum. Most people lie in the middle of the bell curve somewhere, but you will find people at both ends of the curve who are more introverted or extroverted than others.
The people in the middle are called the “ambiverts”, who have both extroverted and introverted traits.
For the purposes of this post, I’m referring to quiet leaders as those falling on the introverted side of the curve. But this doesn’t mean they don’t have any extroverted traits at all.
I recently ran a training course specifically aimed at introverted leaders. In it, we ran a little online test which gave you an “extroversion score” from 1 to 100.
The people in the course ranged from 20 up to 45 out of 100, and I myself got a score of 35. So even in that class, we weren’t dealing with pure introverts, we’re looking at a spectrum.
Learn More: Introverted Leaders vs. Extroverted Leaders. Who Wins?
Quiet Leaders Can Flex When They Need To
This may seem obvious, but it’s worth stating.
Quiet leaders don’t always need to be quiet. They may act in a loud or extraverted manner when they need to.
Professor Brian Little refers to deviations of behaviour like this as “free traits”. He says that the expression of behaviour that deviates from our normal patterns are used to further various important projects that we are undertaking in our lives.
One example he uses is trying to get help for your sick child at a hospital. You might be introverted by nature, but you may act very extroverted for a short period when you’re trying to get people to assist your child.
This is good news, because it shows we can flex our behaviour when we need to.
I’m relatively quiet, but I’m not so quiet when I’m playing basketball. Or when I need to get my training participants to stop talking because the last interactive activity has actually finished!
I’m not quiet when I’m public speaking or delivering training, because that wouldn’t work very well.
Learn More: Thoughtful Leader Podcast #28: Why Softly Spoken Leaders Make a Big Impact.
Advice For Quiet Leaders to Lead More Effectively
With all this in mind, let’s take a look at some helpful tips for some of the quiet leaders out there.
#1. Pick the Battles, When You Should Flex to the Extrovert Side
Earlier I mentioned that we can flex our behaviour when we need to. The important part is knowing when to do it, and when to remain true to our more quiet nature.
Knowing this requires a degree of self-awareness. After all, if we don’t know what’s important to us, then we’ll struggle to make the call.
Here are some ideas to help you pick your battles:
- Understand your core values. When these have the potential to be violated, this might be a time for you to speak up, be assertive and stand your ground. You can learn more about understanding your core values in Thoughtful Leader Podcast #206.
- Think for the longer term. Sometimes we run into trouble when we set a poor precedent for the future. For example, if a team member behaves badly but receives no feedback or consequences for it, they may feel they can keep acting that way. We need to understand the precedent we want to set, and we may need to speak a little louder to set it.
- Have a clear understanding of your goals. We need to understand our goals for our leadership, our team and for our lives. When these goals are put at risk, or we have an opportunity to move closer to them, we might consider flexing to a more outspoken style.
In these three points, I feel we’ve captured many of the situations in which we might choose to flex our approach.
If someone speaks over us in a meeting for example, we might choose to be more assertive to stop a precedent being set that we will always be spoken over. Or, we may choose to speak up to make sure our goals aren’t being threatened when people aren’t listening.
Pick your battles, and be intentional about when you choose a more extroverted approach.
Learn More: Why You Need to Speak Up at Work and Why You Don’t.
#2. Protect Your Downtime
Many quiet leaders feel pressure to be more outgoing, to speak up more and to be more extroverted.
Yes, we can flex our style when we need to, but doing this for a prolonged period is likely to lead to mental stress and fatigue.
We don’t want to mess with our quiet leadership style. We want to use it as our main approach, only deviating from it when the need arises.
Otherwise, we may find ourselves “acting” too often, which can be tiring.
So, protect your downtime. Whether this means booking a meeting room with yourself to work quietly on something important, or safeguarding the time where you take a 10-minute walk at lunch.
Your quiet time is precious and it helps you to recharge. Whatever form it takes, be sure to protect it.
Learn More: Essential Daily Habits to Maintain Your Workplace Wellbeing.
#3. Use Process to Help You Be More Extroverted When You Need To
Relying only on our willpower is fraught with danger. Some suggest it is a finite resource, which can run out and have us giving in to our temptations.
Quiet leaders naturally like to be quiet. It’s their normal state. So if we are constantly trying to force ourselves out of our comfort zone to be more extroverted, we may struggle.
One way I like to approach this challenge is to take willpower off the table by using process instead.
I used to work with a colleague who had a scheduled meeting booked in her calendar with her team. She called it “Team time”.
There was no fixed agenda – it was simply a block of time (or several) each week, where she would make sure she was free and available for her team to speak with her.
This meant she was always making time for her team, even when she was very busy (which was often). It kept communication lines open and guaranteed some spots in the week where people could definitely find her.
The point here is that she made a commitment to her team (via a meeting booking) to be available. She didn’t decide every week whether she would have her Team time. Or ask herself whether she could be bothered. She just did it.
In this way, we can use process to help us engage in the behaviour we want, rather than relying on willpower to do it for us.
As a quiet leader, you may be tempted to work peacefully and avoid engagement with others. A process like “Team time” might help you to open up engagement with your team, even when you instinctively don’t feel like it.
Learn More: Thoughtful Leader Podcast #35: How to Create Open Communication in Your Team.
#4. Remember the Strengths of the Quiet Leader
We often celebrate the characteristics of the charismatic leader.
Engaging, inspiring, charming, influential, a “person of the people”.
A quiet leader may feel intimidated by these characteristics, and feel as if they don’t have them.
However, there are many good characteristics that quiet leaders do have. In my experience, quiet leaders:
- Are better listeners (because they aren’t speaking all the time)
- Can be more observant, noticing things that others may miss
- Are more introspective and reflective (which can help to improve our leadership)
- May be more empathetic, understanding the point of view of others; and
- May create the feeling of a safer environment than a dominant or extroverted leader.
Never forget the qualities that you bring to the table. These are only a few, and you’ll probably be able to identify many more. Use your strengths as much as you can, and remind yourself of them often.
Learn More: Leadership Weaknesses: Use Them to Lead Better.
#5. Quiet Leaders Should Get Specific To Push Back On Extroverted Expectations
When I speak to leaders struggling with their quiet or introverted nature, I notice that they feel there is a weight of expectation on them. They feel they should be more outgoing, or outspoken.
In my younger years, I used to be quite hard on myself, saying things like “I should be more like <this> or I should be doing <that>”.
My Mum would sometimes catch me saying this, and would sometimes ask me “Who says you should?”.
The answer was often “nobody”, but sometimes we put the pressure on ourselves to be different than what we are. (My Mum sometimes reads my articles so she will be thrilled that she got a mention, too).
The point is, we need to push back on the perceived expectations that we feel. Make sure they’re real – and not just in your head.
But sometimes, the expectations are real. People might say “You should speak up more” or “You need to do more networking” or “Market yourself better” or the like.
In the face of these statements, instead of feeling bad, ask for specifics. Ask how this will help to improve your work performance, or what it is specifically about this behaviour that is impacting your work.
Sometimes, people with these expectations don’t have a good answer. They are simply passing on their own expectations of what a leader “should” be like, based on their own biases and experiences.
Don’t always assume you need to be different. Find out why being different would help, and then make the decision about what to do.
Quiet Leaders, Don’t Change Please
We have our fair share of noise in our workplaces.
Don’t change your style, or approach, and be sure to remind yourself of the value you bring.
Sure, we can all benefit from being “louder” at times, depending on the situation.
But remember that loud doesn’t equal good leadership.
Are you one of the quiet leaders out there? What strategies have you adopted to help you lead better? Let me and all the thoughtful leaders know in the comments below!
Being a quiet leader doesn’t mean you’re any less effective. In fact, sometimes the most powerful leaders are the ones who lead by example and don’t need to make a lot of noise. It’s important to recognize and appreciate the unique strengths that introverted leaders bring to the table.