dynamic-introvert
Human Resources

Can a book teach introverts how to be 'dynamic' leaders?

Way back, a lifetime ago, when I was about 13 years old, our form teacher called us up to the front of the class one-by-one for a quiet chat.  Operating in my usual state of perpetual terror I gingerly made my way to the front of the class and sat down opposite Mrs. Edwards.

“You’re not like that lot…” she said waving at the room behind head which was erupting into a noisy paper fight. “You’re quiet…” I know, I groaned inwardly: shy, socially inept and capable only of cowering behind a pen or a book...  

Sadly, I’m a textbook introvert. Two decades later I’m still frightened of groups of people, I loathe being the centre of attention – it makes me break into a horrified sweat – and this generally means I fade into invisibility. Mostly I prefer this, but it can also be hard to be overlooked and ignored – especially in the workplace. Yet now, ways to overcome this is the subject of, ‘The Dynamic Introvert: Leading Quietly with Passion and Purpose’ by Lesley Taylor.

Grounded in her own experiences, this book offers personal insight into how introverts can achieve their leadership goals and offers feedback from 50 self-described introverts. Taking the form of numerous business management books, Taylor sets checklists and advice firmly within the context of introvert preferences.

Over the last few years – well, since Susan Cain’s excellent book, ‘Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking’ burst onto the bestseller list, anyway – a whole introverts movement has erupted online. Suddenly there is a lot of interest in what it might mean to be an introvert – especially in corporate America – and Cain’s Quiet Revolution site has developed a very engaged community.

This new book by Taylor is an inevitable next step in this story as it summarises existing thinking on the subject, places it within the context of leadership theory, and as such taps into a nice niche. And there is a lot many introverts will relate to, whether they’re a leader yet or not.

As she puts it at the beginning: “…it finally dawned on me that my fear of being the centre of attention was affecting my ability to advance my career”. She adds: “self-promotion, although necessary for all leaders, is perhaps more difficult for introverts”.

Taylor believes the need for introverts to self-promote and manage their own brand – in a way they’re comfortable with, of course – is more crucial than it is for anyone else. This is because due to their quiet background presence they can often be misinterpreted.

“My own perception is that introverts are misunderstood because we have had to pretend to be extroverts in order to succeed in life,” she suggests.

Taylor very honestly describes how when she started out in her career, presentations could prove so stressful that on one occasion she entirely blanked out a meeting post-event. The biggest personal challenge she had to overcome, she explains, was public speaking – a point many readers will identify with.

Her advice is generally sensible and what you’d expect. There are sections on self-awareness, types of energy and the advantages introverts have as leaders. She also includes plenty of summaries and checklists as well as emphasising the need to set your own goals and understand yourself.

However, if I have one criticism for a global audience it is that this book does feel remarkably North American (Taylor is based in Canada). I don’t think she would mind me saying this. In one of her emails, prior to popping over a review copy of the book, she wrote: “I’ve been told that things are a bit different in the UK where it is more acceptable to be quiet and reflective.” And of course this is true, in a way, but it is only half the story.

In the UK it is okay to be self-deprecating, and serious braggers definitely get shorter shrift than they do in the US, but this social nuance can easily be factored into big loud personalities. Extroversion is still a leadership preference and people who shout the loudest will always be the most heard.

Yet one piece of advice that struck me as laughably American was the recommendation of a “vision board”. Here, Taylor recommended that individuals go through magazines or newspapers and cut out pictures or words that appeal to this vision and pin them to the wall.

Now, it might be cultural, it might just be me, but if I was to attempt this – I would probably end up sitting on the floor rocking and giggling over my cut-outs like a crazy loon. It reminded me of a self-belief speech I was once given at a Florida conference, that the British contingent simply couldn’t get on board with.

I also think the one thing this book – and others like it – fail to spell out is that, not only do introverts make perfectly decent leaders, but that sometimes the people who start out thinking they want to lead are all wrong for the role. This is precisely because they approach their career preferences from the perspective of wanting to be centre of attention.  

On a related side note, some years ago I once overheard a conversation on the tube where a girl talking to her friend said: “I really want to go into management because I like being centre of attention and bossing people about…” After that, I started looking round the office at some of the individuals pushing for the top, and concluded that a lot of them lot of them took that exact viewpoint. They brown-nosed the people above them, were horrible to the people below, and desire-for-power aside, made absolutely horrific leaders.

So, how good is this book overall? Can it teach introverts how to be dynamic leaders? Well, most of the advice is sound and it is told with passion and authenticity – something Taylor strongly advocates. The point it makes strongest though, is that whatever personality you have, you shouldn’t be afraid to seek a leadership position, if you want one. Just because you’re quiet doesn’t mean you won’t be any good – quite the reverse.

And while this book won’t be for everyone. Nothing ever is. If you’re an introvert and want the confidence to pursue a leadership position it may well prove helpful. Because at the very least, it will show you, you’re not alone.

 

Further reading:

Introverts vs. extroverts in tech

Leadership: Challenges for MBTI confirmed introverts

Research: Are all IT professionals ‘introverted geeks’?

Interview: Leadership consultant & MBTI expert

Infographic: Introverts in tech

Introverts vs. extroverts: Is there an IT personality? [Gated PDF]

PREVIOUS ARTICLE

« US tech firms lobbying spend: Q1 2016

NEXT ARTICLE

Bangladesh $80 million cyber heist shows banks must improve security protocols »

Poll

Do you think your smartphone is making you a workaholic?