Quiet: The missing chapter

Quiet book jacketLast month, I wrote a post asking readers if they had a favorite book for parenting AND leadership. Many thanks to Donna, who suggested Susan Cain’s bestselling book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.” What a great read! It’s chock full of tips for parents of introverted children and for leaders of introverted employees. I can see why Donna recommended it.

However, I feel the book is missing something. Since over half of the population is extroverted, chances are there will be some in every group you lead. Where’s the chapter on how to thrive as an introverted leader?

As an introvert myself, I make a conscious effort to engage, motivate, and reward extroverts every day. Here are some strategies I’ve found helpful:

1) Deputize someone to plan social activities. Extroverts are energized by social interaction. Yet, organizing lunches or other social events has never been a priority for me as an introverted leader. To counterbalance my natural tendencies, I ask someone on my team be in charge of fun things to do. I look for someone who enjoys getting the team together for meals, planning office parties, or organizing other events that involve hanging around with team members. I give them a goal (e.g., an activity every month), and a reasonable budget, if possible. And then I show up for at least part of the event, even if I’d rather recharge by being by myself. The extroverts need me there.

2) Shine the spotlight when giving kudos. Generally speaking, extroverts love having the spotlight shown on them when they’ve hit a milestone or accomplished something great. I’ve done things like giving a shout-out at an all-hands meeting, asking them to stand for everyone to see. I’ve sent an email to a large distribution list to congratulate them on a job well done. There are many ways to acknowledge their accomplishments publicly, just be sure not to just default to how you like to be acknowledged. For many introverts, this is in a one-on-one, personal sort of way.

3) Schedule hang-out time during long meetings. Sure, we all know that breaks are needed during all-day meetings, and I tend to use breaks to catch up on email and be alone with my thoughts. By contrast, extroverts need space to hang out, exchange thoughts, and continue discussions. By doing so, they’ll return to the meeting energized with new ideas.

4) Put ’em in charge of the schmoozing. Have you ever noticed that when the phone rings, introverts tend to think “why is someone bothering me now” where extroverts can’t wait to answer it? Something similar happens with meetings with customers, partners, and the like. Introverts don’t want to bother these people with small talk when first introduced, but extroverts look forward to connecting with them and forging bonds that might help with future business needs. Ask the extroverts on your team to take a lead in making introductions and schmoozing at the start of such business meetings.

While these tips are geared towards leadership, they can also be applied to parenting. Ask your extroverted child for ideas for family outings. Embrace the after school activities that let your extroverted kids continue interacting with their friends. Put your extroverted child in charge of answering the telephone, once their old enough for this responsibility. Not only do these strategies help your extroverted children, they can be a welcome relief to an introverted parent!

Do you have additional tips for introverts who want to be good leaders or parents for the extroverts in their lives? Please share them by leaving a comment. I look forward to hearing from you.


p.s. Even if you don’t have time to read “Quiet,” be sure to check out Susan Cain’s TED talk.

© 2013 by Karen Catlin. All rights reserved.

8 thoughts on “Quiet: The missing chapter

  1. Great points Karen. As the most introverted person I know, I found it far easier parenting my introverted child than my extroverted one, but used similar kinds of strategies parenting my extroverted child. At the time I also had an extroverted husband to help, so we could pair up introverts and extroverts. Love your tips for leadership at work. Keep them busy! I didn’t read Susan Cain’s book but did enjoy reading “The Introvert Advantage: Making the Most of Your Inner Strengths” by Marti Olsen Laney Psy.D.

  2. Thank you for these tips, they are important and useful. One bothers me a little, though, the one about public acknowledgement. I think I understand your point, that these types of things are important to extroverts. But what this kind of thinking can also lead to is an appearance (or more than an appearance–a reality) that extroverts win all the awards and acknowledgements while introverts are always in the audience, behind the scenes, applauding the extroverts. To me there’s something wrong with that picture. Public acknowledgement often matters for prestige, pay, and career advancement, so I think everyone needs to be treated equally in this regard. Either give public acknowledgement for a job well done or don’t, depending on whether it’s appropriate, but don’t just assume that an extrovert should get it because s/he is an extrovert.

    1. I hadn’t thought of this aspect before. You’re absolutely right — introverts shouldn’t be put at a disadvantage by not highlighting their accomplishments publicly. Thank you for calling this out.

  3. Having been labelled as an extravert techie (I think I am an ambivert since I get annoyed when the telephone rings as well :)), one suggestion I have is not to put the people on the social activity organizer but more of an organizer of career related event. I usually feel like the secretary who is asked to bring coffee when I am tasked to organize social events as everyone knows i must be the “social” type but I do not enjoy it as much. In contrast, I have been asked to organize talks, served in internal and external technical committees to involve reps from multiple divisions of an organization where people can present, etc. and that kind of activity does really charge me. IMO, this is an area where extraverts will really shine. Recently, we were giving a panel and someone in our group had an excellent idea to involve a speaker that none of us know. I took the job to get this person to be included in the panel and it was very successful. So, when the organizational duties are related to the job (in my case technical), it really can give a great outlet for extraverts. It combines the goals in 1 and 4 but in a more rewarding way and directly related to their job. Extraverts will be good to interact with other divisions or functions of the company too, so giving them a job to handle sales dept interactions or requests from product mgrs in other departments whom you need to interact with, etc. would channel their energy. Those functions are really important and not tangential to their line of work.

    1. Excellent points, Umit. Thank you for sharing your perspective, especially how you’ve seen career growth when introverts reached out to you for help. A win-win solution!

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