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Introverts: How Many Leadership Hats Are You Wearing?

Identifying your roles and how to succeed in each

You have seven primary roles as a leader – strong link, reliable guide, rules champion, bridge builder, composed rock, team advocate, and helicopter pilot. Each is an important function for you to embody. These roles can apply to all leaders, regardless of their personality type, but introverts will find it best to utilize common strengths such as thoughtfulness, resiliency, and loyalty to establish a leadership foundation.

The skills for each of these roles develop over time. Management should not expect leaders to be ready-made for these responsibilities. Certain skills may seem to come naturally, while others take focused work. Still others may never become your strong suit. That is okay. We are all different and the best companies recognize their organization is made from a broad spectrum of leadership skills and styles, meshed together.

1. Strong Link

Picture your team as a chain. The best teams are made of strong links across the chain. Everyone contributes and relies upon each other. A weak link can break the chain. You are part of that chain. You too need to be a strong link.

Every manager has their own job tasks, such as strategic thinking and managing stakeholders, in addition to leading the team. You are the only one that can do these tasks. Many managers get so wrapped up in micro-managing each team member that they ignore their own responsibilities. By doing so, you are not only frustrating your staff, but you are neglecting your own duties. Don’t become a weak link in your own team’s chain.

At the beginning of her career, Jay Artale used to go into meetings and try to effect change but found it akin to cold-calling and couldn’t get anyone to commit. Then she saw how her boss’ manager operated. When he had an idea, he would spend weeks before a critical meeting selling his idea to all the key stakeholders who could get in his way or help him achieve success. As a result, the meeting to effect change became merely a final seal of approval. This stakeholder management was a key role that was critical to the team’s success. This manager was fulfilling his role as a strong link, and he also served as a role model in Jay’s development.

2. Reliable Guide

As a leader, you should be a reliable guide, trusted and accessible as well as transparent and giving of your time and knowledge. Maintain an open-door policy to your staff not only by being available, but by truly listening, taking action, and maintaining confidences. Staff don’t need to see or talk to you every day, but they want to be confident that they can rely on you when they need to. Provide insights into often mysterious corporate processes like annual evaluations, promotion considerations, and career planning. I’m not advocating disclosing corporate secrets, but sharing how these processes work reduces the apprehension in these areas and creates a sense of openness and confidence in your leadership style.

Matt Kingsolver notes that he “find(s) the open door is not always just about time, but about content. That is, it’s important that your team feels it can be open and honest with you without unfair repercussions, that you listen and take action on their ideas.”

This sharing of time and insights extends beyond your team. Forty-five percent of respondents to our Introvert Talent Survey indicated they were mentoring at least one other employee. Be a mentor to others, including newer members of the organization. Form a mentoring circle for introverts. Find ways to share your experience and create a more open environment in your organization. You will benefit as much as others do. Such engagements help you to keep a pulse on a wide array of generational styles and diverse viewpoints, so you don’t get stuck in your ways.

3. Rules Champion

All employees are expected to follow company rules. As a leader and role model, you need to be aware of all the rules and adhere to them every day. This seems obvious and simple, but you probably have a myriad of requirements that are often shared through a thick PowerPoint slide pack or orientation meeting on day one and filed thereafter. You are responsible for knowing the rules and training and implementing these expectations for the whole team. Include expert resources such as corporate human resources, ethics and compliance officers, and legal counsel as needed to decipher unclear circumstances.

Sara Bonario shares, “Passionate people with a strong set of core values will demonstrate these traits… It is just how they show up in the world.” Following these rules is part of the organization’s license to operate, and it is the leader’s role to ensure compliance.

4. Bridge Builder

Part of your role is to act as the bridge between your team and others, including senior leadership, other intra-company organizations, and external partners and competitors. While your team members will develop working relationships with groups and counterparties, you should be aligned with them in building similar relations with your equals in the same organizations. This will require building rapport, mining for information, advocating for your team members, and solving problems that might arise between organizations. These social and occasionally contentious situations can appear daunting to many introverts. Use your strengths to prepare for discussions, customize your engagements through less formal, small encounters, and pair up with a team member or others to diffuse social pressures, especially with initial interactions.

Michelle Lax, retired senior manager, shares that a key priority for her was to “build a relationship with all [her] key co-workers. This helps get things done more effectively. It can also help you if you do have any issues with your manager or if you are looking for a change. Keep up with these connections.” Building this rapport in advance will pay dividends when called upon.

You will also be expected to rise above company silos and narrow objectives to do the right thing for the overall corporation. This can be a tricky role to balance within your tight-knit team, but you are modeling proper priorities. Lead by example to work closely within your manager’s team and with other company leaders to explore synergies, knock down barriers, and share best practices.

5. Composed Rock

To be composed is to be calm under pressure and manage your emotions with purpose. Your team and others are watching when the heat is turned up, when there is a safety issue or a security breach, when a team member starts yelling, or when someone cries under personal or work pressures. I’ve seen all these emotions at work. To be clear, I don’t suggest being cold and emotionless. Rather, sort through the situation and respond empathetically. Crumbling under pressure does not evoke confidence from your team members. You may be sweating inside, but your ability to temper the situation, find the root cause, and solve the problem will solidify your leadership and provide an example for others to follow.

This requires mindfulness to consciously decide on your approach rather than getting caught up in the emotions of the moment. Make the effort to pause and evaluate options in your head. Eventually, through practice, this more tempered and purposeful method will become second nature. Especially in crisis, your reactions can build tremendous confidence and loyalty amongst the team, or they can raise doubt and dissent amongst everyone.

In my first weeks at the Detroit Distribution Terminal, the entire plant shut down in the middle of the night due to an operational issue. Though I was not the mechanic, I immediately headed to the plant to lend leadership to the situation. I managed changing schedules for our truck drivers, concerns from service station owners regarding delayed gasoline deliveries, and a mechanic who was frantic as he tried to repair the issue with all eyes seemingly on him. Though I was not an expert in these areas, my composure during this operational emergency helped get us back on track by the morning. The troops appreciated my leadership and willingness to roll up my sleeves alongside the team to navigate through a precarious situation.

6. Team Advocate

As a team advocate, promote your team by creating opportunities for others to shine and then communicate their accomplishments to senior management. Everyone wants to feel appreciated. Spend time considering how to recognize staff with pats on the back, acknowledgement at meetings, personal thank-you notes, or gift cards. Certainly, when raises and promotions are justified, have your information ready to support such an assertion.

While it is always vital to share your team members’ achievements, be careful not to embellish them, as this undermines their true accomplishments and may jeopardize your own credibility. Providing an accurate picture of your team’s successes and development areas helps maintain the rapport, alignment, and trust you are striving for with your manager.

You may also advocate for your team by supporting their efforts to prioritize their time. Give them the authority to excuse themselves from superfluous meeting invitations or to rationalize unnecessary training or other draws on their time.

The best way to advocate for your team is to engage and listen. Early in Todd Miner’s career, he prioritized financial targets over team needs. He recalled, “My learning was that I did not elevate ‘caring for others’ above the drive to deliver improvement.” Later, he recognized his misstep and turned his early career shortcoming into a strength, advocating that for leaders, “truly caring for others needs should be at the top of the list. This is an ‘and’ proposition. Caring for others and delivering performance.”

Lean on your thoughtfulness trait. Simple acts of kindness and consideration go a long way. If you are not spending time each week on recognition, you should start today.

7. Helicopter Pilot

A helicopter pilot can observe from a distance or land on the ground and get involved in the details. A leader must take both perspectives to satisfy the previous six roles along with the team building and coaching roles to follow. The key is determining when to observe and when to land. Everyone respects the manager who can lead the team’s strategy and engage with senior leadership while also being comfortable to roll up their sleeves to help solve a problem that the team is tackling. However, no one likes a micro-manager or an absent leader. Neither is viewed as supportive or inspiring.

Leaders need to be a strong link in the team’s chain and they also need to work closely with team members to coach, motivate, and counsel. Artfully employing this balance will enable team members to benefit from the wisdom and inspiration you have to offer while maintaining their own autonomy and style to deliver. To test if you are striking the right balance, have an open discussion with each of your staff about an appropriate level of involvement.

Adapted excerpt from my upcoming book, The Corporate Introvert: How to Lead and Thrive with Confidence, due out this fall. Subscribe to my website for more excerpts, publishing updates, and opportunities for subscriber discounts.


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