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How Can Introverts Fill the Leadership Gap?

7 Ways to Create Your Opportunity to Lead

The Leadership Gap is Calling You!

What is the leadership gap and why does it matter to you? Companies are looking at the required number and competencies of leaders they need now and into the future and they’re concerned. Seventy-seven percent of companies identified a leadership gap in 2019. The chasm relates to both quantity and quality. According to Forbes, only 14% of CEOs have the leadership talent they need to grow their businesses.

Let’s look at how this leadership gap can empower introverts and reshape your career.

Quantity: Shortfall of Leaders

Let’s first focus on the thinning pipeline of corporate leaders. Every day 10,000 Baby Boomers are retiring! Many of these are corporate leaders. Meanwhile, disgruntled Gen X staff that form the backbone of rising leadership are leaving for the more flexible gig economy and the more personable small business community. Finally, Gen Y/Millennials, the natural managerial successors over the next decade, are much less patient to wait for leadership positions. More than four out of five Millennials will stay in their jobs for three years or less. Meanwhile, many of the millions who left the workforce during the COVID pandemic have no intent to return to work and most especially a rigid work schedule with unwanted commutes.

These employees are not tied to companies and the golden parachutes of pensions and retirement funds like veteran workers. All have good reason to look elsewhere. Loyalty has plummeted as corporate restructuring has increased the cycle of consolidations and layoffs. Thus, the corporate leadership gap grows.

Yet large companies continue to fuel the economy and employ over half of the US workforce according to the Census. Companies are recognizing the gap and challenges ahead, though they are admittedly late in addressing this changing dynamic.

So, what is the solution? Companies need to broaden their search for leaders and implement programs that develop people to lead in the decades ahead. Many plan to meet this leadership gap by tapping a diverse set of employees, including minorities and women.

Today, most leaders are white males. In fact, a survey of S&P 500 companies in 2019 revealed female CEOs were outnumbered by CEOs named James 27 to 24! This sounds comical, but it underscores the severe lack of diversity in senior leadership positions, and it flows to all levels throughout companies. Minorities are also underrepresented. Despite accounting for 12% of the US population, African Americans fill only 3.2% of senior leadership roles according to a CBS News study in 2019.

Do you know who else is underrepresented? Although introverts account for approximately 50% of the general population and corporate workforce, according to an Industrial Psychology study, only two percent of senior leaders claim to be introverts. Two percent!

This may be understated, as many people tend to hide their introversion. However, even if the true number were ten times higher (20%). introverts are still severely underrepresented in leadership positions. These metrics don’t improve much elsewhere amongst the leadership ranks. Only seven percent of front-line managers claim to be introverted.

Quality: Skillset Gap

A lack of quality or skills further contributes to this leadership gap. Consultants believe key business indicators of the late twentieth century—driving strategy, delivering financial results, managing operations well—are now complemented by twenty-first century needs for transparency and overcoming ambiguity. The business world is increasingly complex and skeptical.

  • Companies are trying to decipher changing consumer demands in an increasingly competitive environment.

  • Consumers want to trust companies they do business with and appreciate those who care to invest in the community and environment.

  • Meanwhile, employees are seeking an unprecedented level of clarity and balance in their work-life, as well as reciprocating loyalty and respect from their employer.

STRATX, an innovative global management development and consulting firm, highlights four essential talents for future business success:

1) Critical Thinking: Balanced analysis matched with decision-making skills.

2) Curiosity and Innovation: Open-mindedness and observation of changing environments in order to discover products and processes.

3) Emotional Intelligence: A resilient mindset supporting collaboration, teamwork, and leadership to drive diverse perspectives and thinking.

4) Technological Savvy: Observing and creating step changes in technological capability.

It’s no coincidence that common introverted strengths align favorably with STRATX’s four critical talents for future business.

Introverts tend to be strong leaders for independent, proactive teams who appreciate a supportive, calm, collaborative style. The command-and-control style of many extroverts may work well with passive followers seeking guidance, but this is quickly becoming the workforce of the past.

Filling the Gap

We have established that introverts are poised to help fill leadership vacancies and bring a style that fits well with team needs in the twenty-first century. When introverts lean on common strengths such as thoughtful observant, detailed planner, and creative problem-solver, we can quite capably bust myths and manage social situations, conduct productive meetings, and make strong decisions. Introverts have robust innate tendencies and, even more, the ambition to contribute and lead.

Ultimately, companies need a diverse workforce of women and men, people of every color and nationality, introverts and extroverts. After all, this combination represents society’s demographics and thus helps build a distinct connection with the needs of the consumers that businesses aim to serve. Furthermore, this community brings an assortment of perspectives, ideas, and styles that aid companies in tackling problems and charting unique paths. Clearly, today’s underrepresented women, minorities, and introverts are needed to fill both the sheer number and the skillset gaps already persistent in corporate leadership.

Where Are the Introverts?

So why are introverts so underrepresented in corporate leadership? First, we should consider that many companies are still greatly affected by societal norms that assume that leaders should look formidable, speak loudly, and make rapid decisions. Thus, they place extroverts into the vast majority of leadership positions. Most people see strength in employees like themselves, and extroverts are no different. They tend to promote extroverts and don’t provide opportunities to the quieter staff on their team.

Yes, stereotypes need to change, and companies need to promote more diversity through structured leadership programs, but the responsibility also lies with each of us, the introverts of the corporate world. We need to shift our own belief that introversion is a burden, or that we are second-rate to extroverts. We need to identify our strengths and finally celebrate that these skills are now the key to both corporate success and our own dreams. Embrace these strengths. Learn about them and practice them so they are indeed your superpowers.

How to Create Your Opportunity to Lead

So what can you do if you don't feel you will have your chance to lead now?

  1. Share your introversion: have discussions with friends and managers and share your introversion - PROUDLY. Convey your style in everything you do.

  2. Kick A$$: practice and apply your unique strengths in everything you do. Seek to go above and beyond...your way!

  3. Communicate with your manager: be sure they know what great work you do. Introverts tend to fly under the radar. Be known.

  4. Engage with Human Resources: HR is typically a big advocate for the employee's voice. Be constructive and help them to help you. Advocate for senior leadership training on introversion and for the development of Mentoring Circles for introverts to learn and grow together.

  5. Educate others: extroverts often assume introverts are happiest to be alone and be a worker-bee. While that may be true at times, many introverts are also quite ambitious. Help your manager dispel myths and consider the true strengths of introverts, and especially yourself.

  6. Ask for it: if you have dreams and ambitions to lead, be sure your manager is aware of that and helps you put together a plan to build your leadership skills and experience.

  7. Be patient...for a while: you are changing corporate culture. Be patient as it evolves. But if you don't find others who are supportive and that the door is opening, go find another team, organization, or company.

Corporate America has a leadership shortfall. There is a bevy of companies that see introversion as another aspect of Diversity & Inclusion and are seeking that variety of thought and leadership around their meeting tables and across their organization. The time is ripe for introverts to lead!

This article is adapted from Steve Friedman’s groundbreaking leadership book for introverts, The Corporate Introvert: How to Lead and Thrive with Confidence. Check out more about the book’s stories and models and how you can buy your own copy here.


The Corporate Introvert:

How to Lead and Thrive with Confidence

I'm thrilled to announce that my new book, The Corporate Introvert, will be launching on October 6th.

Whether you are a veteran, new or aspiring leader, this book provides models, tips, and inspiring anecdotes to empower corporate introverts to explore their own strengths and overcome traditional obstacles to become a confident and authentic leaders.

To celebrate the release, I'm honored to join many podcast warriors to share insights that will make a difference in your career. I hope you will join me throughout the fall Yes, You Can Podcast Tour+.



Working with Introverts

From the perspective of extroverts and managers


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