The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, a common personality assessment tool, estimates that about half the U.S. population consists of introverts and about four in 10 top executives are introverts. Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Steven Spielberg, Andrea Jung, Charles Schwab and Brenda Barnes come to mind. In Jennifer Kahnweiler's book, The Introverted Leader, she notes that introverted individuals are excellent leaders for a number of reasons. Here are a few.
• They think about things, then share their thoughts. They are often great listeners who use what they have heard to make a comment, which can move the group forward.
• They appear calm and prepared. During stressful times, it is critical to have a leader who displays calm confidence.
• They are usually comfortable with writing down their thoughts and can effectively share these via e-mail and online social networking tools.
• They seek depth over breadth and really try to dig deep into issues and ideas before moving on to new ones.
Introverts might be described as lacking social skills, being withdrawn, loners, unfriendly or shy. In her book, Self-Promotion for Introverts, Nancy Ancowitz explains that it is important for introverts to increase their visibility at work to get credit for their ideas and to be given the opportunities for higher-level positions (if that's what they want). Based on her ideas and advice I have given to introverts aspiring to leadership positions, here are some tips:
• Keep a file of your accomplishments throughout the year. Throw in letters from clients or colleagues, performance feedback and awards. Organize these data so that you can mention them when you have an important meeting with a superior.
• Practice stating your accomplishments with a coach or mentor to get feedback.
• Make sure you are periodically on the agenda at meetings. Don't feel you have to make as many comments as extroverts. Offer one or two key points. Prepare for the meetings and the points you will raise.
• After meetings and within a day or two, send out followup e-mails to note your points and contributions and to acknowledge those raised by others.
• Networking can be very stressful, but important. Pick events where you might know a few people or will feel welcome.
• Once you are there, take a few deep breaths to calm down. Everyone is not watching you. Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water. Avoid caffeine, which can make you feel more anxious.
• Have specific goals for each networking event. Perhaps it will be to meet two new people or share your business card with three individuals.
• Ask questions and listen to other people, and share a few things about yourself, maybe your hobbies or interests. People relate better to individuals who share something about themselves. They also remember those people better.
Make sure you recharge
• Be careful not to overschedule yourself.
• Use downtime to rest. Maybe this occurs on your commute or nights or weekends.
• Allow time to prepare for meetings, speeches, etc. Don't let others "steal" your reflection time.
Joyce E.A. Russell is the director of the Executive Coaching and Leadership Development Program at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business. She is a licensed industrial and organizational psychologist and has more than 25 years of experience coaching executives and consulting on leadership and career management.