10 Ways to Encourage Introvert Involvement
The business world is going through monumental changes. A critical leadership gap has formed. It's time for introverts to take the baton, stop following the lead of others, and become part of the solution. In the process, we empower ourselves to shed the extrovert mask and finally do things our way.
The Leadership Gap
First, what is the "Leadership Gap?" It is two-fold: quantity and quality.
About 10,000 baby boomers retire from corporate America every day. With their departure goes leadership, history, and team management. It's becoming harder for companies to replace this big gulf given more millennials are opting to run their own business, enjoy the flexibility of the gig/freelance economy, or have no intentions to invest in a long-term corporate career. COVID has only exacerbated this dilemma with corporate layoffs, early retirements, and millions removing themselves from the workforce to take care of kids or at-risk family members. The last decade's fissure has become this new decade's gorge.
Introverts have struggled in the workplace for decades, often playing the game to appear extroverted, only to come home exhausted and confused about who they truly are. Now, companies can fix this dilemma and also help transform themselves...
The quality, or talent, required of companies to compete is also changing. Driven by consumers and employees, companies are striving to become more nimble, more caring of their customers, employees, and the community at large. To do so, companies need to be better listeners. The days of large personalities dominating the room, dictating the message, and forcing compliance, is over. Companies want to hear innovative ideas and a thoughtful and balanced approaches to new products and old problems. Companies are desperately racing to better serve their customers by striving to take on the demographics of the general public. What a novel concept!
Unbeknownst to many, a large portion of the workforce is quietly unhappy. They feel disrespected and intimidated. Their voice is not heard, their differences are not celebrated. To survive, they often try to take on the personality of the culture that surrounds them. These disgruntled employees may suffer from depression, underperformance, and are most apt to leave, not because they aren't talented but because they do not feel welcome to bring their true selves to work. This group is represented across the racial and gender spectrum - they are introverts.
Diversity & Inclusion...and Involvement
The solution to the leadership gap is diversity on a grander scale. Not just diversity but inclusion. Having the company and its employees look like America seems to pay lip service. Actually including this cross-section of America at all levels including leadership and Board rooms is critical.
But we must go even further. Inclusion must usher in "involvement." This diverse demographic needs to be encouraged to participate in idea generation and to challenge decisions too. The old guard needs to welcome this diversity of thought and experience. Side-by-side is the only way unique solutions and products rise to the level the world is demanding.
Breaking the Mold
So many introverts of every race and gender continue to struggle to be part of the solution, not because of any lack of talent. On the contrary, many introverts naturally fit the evolving approach. Introverts are often great listeners and curious about different ideas and positions. They tend to bring greater care and empathy into their teams and their customer relationships. An introvert's motto is often "quality over quantity" and that helps build endearing relations within teams and customers alike.
As a result, introverts are often exceptional leaders. Public examples like global philanthropist and Microsoft founder Bill Gates, financial icon Warren Buffett, former president Barak Obama, and Yahoo! president and CEO Marissa Mayer loom large, but other examples are all around.
The Solution is Right in Front of Us
By inviting this diversity into the company, introverts also help fill the leadership shortfall. Though approximately 50% of employees are introverts, according to The Wall Street Journal only 7% of first-line supervisors are introverts, shrinking to 2% of executives. There is a bevy of leaders ready to fill the gap within the diverse introvert community.
All companies should strongly encourage this move because it is good for the bottom line, for the community, and for their employees.
Inviting Introverts to the Table
Introverts are not asking for pity or accommodations. We are asking for open-mindedness. Just as extroverts should be provided the space to brainstorm and debate, introverts should be provided the opportunity for their greatest strengths to shine through.
Here are 10 ways leaders can encourage introvert involvement:
Create open dialogue on personalities across the organization. Start with a Myers-Briggs (MBTI) team discussion.
Offer a mix of open collaborative space and private rooms.
Provide meeting agendas and pre-read for project and team meetings.
Employ the sticky note method to provide solo time to develop ideas in meetings before sharing.
Support small-team (3-5) collaboration within company and industry, not just large forums and conventions.
Invite strength-based discussions (eg, Gallup) to help identify peoples' strengths, passions, and gaps so that work can be allocated where talent and passion lie.
Emphasize results vs. process so everyone can do deliver their own way.
Welcome everyone to participate in discussions. Make space so it is not dominated by a few.