Author Interview: The Introverted Leader


Jennifer B. Kahnweiler, Ph.D. is the author of “The Introverted Leader: Building on Your Quiet Strength”. I had purchased the book as a possible resource for my introverted clients, who often express that they are “misunderstood” or “don’t fit in”. This is also an excellent book for extraverted leaders who may need to better understand the significant gifts of the introverts at work and in their lives. 

Dr. Kahnweiler’s web site “It’s About You” has additional resources, and be sure to subscribe to her Introverted Leader Blog.  She was kind enough to answer a few questions about the book and the strengths of these quiet leaders:

What was important enough about this topic that inspired you to write a book about it?

In today’s extroverted business world, introverts can feel ignored, overlooked, and misunderstood. In fact, according to my research—a two-and-a-half-year national study of introverted professionals—four out of five introverts say extroverts are more likely to get ahead in their workplace. What’s more, over 40 percent say they would like to change their introverted tendencies, but don’t know where or how to begin. I wanted to help make that a little easier. I also have found it especially satisfying to work with introverted clients.

What are the strengths that introverts can bring to leadership?  

Here are five key assets they bring:

  1. They think first, talk later. Introverted leaders think before they speak. Even in casual conversation, they consider others’ comments carefully, and stop and reflect before responding. Their tendency to be more measured with words is a major asset in today’s recession, when no leader can afford to make a costly gaffe.
  2. They focus on depth. Introverted leaders seek depth over breadth. They like to dig deep—delving into issues and ideas before moving on to new ones. They are drawn to meaningful conversations—not superficial chit-chat—and know how to ask great questions and really listen to people’s answers.
  3. They exude calm. Introverted leaders are low-key. In times of crisis, they project a reassuring, calm confidence—think President Obama—and regardless of the heat of the conversation or circumstances, speak softly and slowly.
  4. They let their fingers do the talking. Introverted leaders prefer writing to talking. They opt for e-mail over the telephone and meet face-to-face only when necessary. Today, their comfort with the written word helps them better leverage online social networking tools such as Twitter—creating new opportunities to be “out there” with employees as they deal with uncertainty and fear.
  5. They embrace solitude. Introverted leaders are energized by spending time alone. Sufferers of people exhaustion, they frequently need to retreat to recharge their batteries. These regular timeouts fuel their thinking, creativity, and decision-making, and when the pressure is on, help them be responsive— not reactive.

What do introverts need to be able to do to thrive in the extroverted business world?  

The goal is not changing your personality or natural work style, but embracing and expanding who you are. As an ongoing framework, follow the “4 P’s”: preparation (devising game plans); presence (focusing on the moment); push (stretching and growing); and practice (rehearsing and refining new skills). 

What advice do you have for introverted leaders around relationship building?

Use social networking to set the stage. Technology is a great tool for for preparing to meet people. Use social networking sites to set the stage for connecting with others in person at meetings and events. You can introduce yourself, find common ground and send helpful “news you can use” items – all in a low key yet friendly way. 

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Mary Jo Asmus is the founder and President of Aspire Collaborative Services LLC, an executive coach, writer, internationally recognized thought leader, and a consultant who partners with organizations of all kinds to develop and administer coaching programs. She has “walked in your shoes” as a former leader in a Fortune company.

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