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Assertiveness, communication can make introverts into good leaders

"I  just accepted a new job as a manager of a fairly large department, and I’m worried because I’m not used to such a wide range of responsibilities. I’m also concerned because I tend to be rather introverted. I like to think about issues before I tackle them and need some time to think things through before I take action. While I have a good grasp of the operations and technical requirements, I’m worried that I won’t be able to make quick decisions and that I won’t get enough time to think before I have to make them. Any advice or suggestions?" 

Congratulations! You got this job because of your strengths and achievements. While the introverted part of you may be raising concerns, you know you have the ability to take this job and run with it. 

What the new job might require, though, says Jennifer Kahnweiler, author of a new book titled "The Introverted Leader: Building on Your Quiet Strength," is making a conscious effort to adapt in ways that will make this work more doable and comfortable for you over the long run. 

"It’s not about changing who you are," she says. "It’s about embracing and expanding it and adding tips and tools and integrating them into your work."     

For an introvert, who gets energy from thinking and reflecting, getting along in the "noisy, extroverted" world takes conscious effort. Four out of five introverts believe that extroverts are more likely to get ahead in the business world, she says. 

One of Kahnweiler’s key tips for you is to manage others’ expectations about you and your leadership style. Meet with each member of the team (or at least your direct reports) and discuss your leadership style and preferences for communication so people understand how you work best. "Tell them it’s nothing personal when you close the door," she says, "and to do your best work, you need to have that time alone." 

"I would do the same thing with the boss," she adds. "Tell him or her how you do your best thinking. You can say, ‘I realize it’s not always possible to give me time to reflect, but when I get it, it allows me to fuel my thinking. I’m more creative and responsive, not reactive.’" 

Take a careful look at your daily work routine and habits, Kahnweiler says, and consider whether or to what extent you set aside time to be alone, to think. "Bring the solitude into your day and schedule that time," she says. 

That might mean taking a mid-day walk, taking the long route to work if you drive, getting into the office a little early or closing the door at lunchtime. "For introverts, short breaks are better than no breaks," she says. 

It also means getting control of the workload so that it is more manageable. Many introverts find it difficult to set limits. "We all have that problem to some extent, but many introverts don’t know how to say no. They don’t believe they have the right to do that," Kahnweiler says. 

Take some control over what you need for meetings, she says. Perhaps you need a break between the first discussion and the action items, or maybe you need the information about a project sent to you the day before the meeting to give you more time before the decision is required. 

"You can ask that of the people on your team," she says. "Take some control by requesting things and modeling your introverted strategy." 

Another strategy for meetings is to practice speaking up and putting out ideas at different times during the meeting, without worrying about whether the answer you offer is perfect. 

"Get over the self-defeating committee in your head," Kahnweiler says. "Remind yourself that even if it isn’t well thought out, it’s OK. You practice and you learn to adapt to the extroverted world that’s required of you." 

"When you’re in a room with a group of people, get your voice in the room, without waiting for the right thing to say. Ask a question, paraphrase something, make a comment, get in there early and make your impression then. Put a stake in the ground, and then you’ll get feedback," she says. 

Here are a few other tips based on Kahnweiler’s strategies, which include the "4 Ps" for introverted professionals-"preparation, presence, push and practice." 

-Develop a game plan. Prepare for the connections you need to make and the high-stakes meetings and conversations. 

-Communicate early and often. Take the initiative for sharing information with team members, bosses and other people. Don’t wait to be asked for updates or news. "Find out what people need to feel confident in you, and provide it to them ahead of time," she says. 

-Select the right communication medium. "Resist the temptation to hide behind e-mail. It may appear to be the easiest or safest channel, but it’s not always the right one." 

-Take advantage of technology. Social networking sites can prepare you to meet people and lay the groundwork for connecting with others. 

-Practice asserting yourself. "Assertiveness gets a bum rap," she says. "Often confused with aggressiveness, it is simply being open, honest and direct-asking for what you need and want." 

Managers at Work is a bimonthly column exploring the issues and challenges facing managers. Contact Kathleen Driscoll with questions or comments by phone at (585) 249-9295 or by e-mail at [email protected]

09/11/09 (c) Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303.

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