A leader is best when people barely know he exists. Of a good leader, who talks little, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: We did it ourselves.

Lao Tzu

While it might not seems so from the outset, most introverts are in an ideal position to become leaders because of the nature of their personality. Introversion and extroversion are considered two opposing points on a scale, but in reality, everyone has certain elements of each trait.

The main difference between the two types of personalities is that introverts tend to keep to themselves, reflecting more on their own psychic conditions, while extroverts are more social, finding inspiration from the world outside themselves. Introverts make excellent leaders, not necessarily by being social, but by applying their keen thoughts, sense of reflection, and attention to detail in all their projects; as well as by forming deeper and more meaningful relationships with their cohorts (everybody knows: small talk is an introvert’s anathema).

According to the Lao Tzu quote above, these qualities also contribute in the work of the best leaders. As such, we have a number of world-renowned leaders who have upended their industries just by relying on the natural advantages of being introverted, such as Barack Obama, Mark Zuckerberg, Richard Branson, and J.K. Rowling.

Lesson 1: Be Vocal About Accomplishments

Regardless of the quality of the work they do, introverts tend to get overlooked because they’re not necessarily vocal about their accomplishments. After all, a programmer who quietly keeps to herself is not necessarily going to draw much attention, even if she produces amazing work. Introverts are famously averse to self-promotion, but are fundamentally successful at producing quality work.

This makes moving up the chain much harder. Introverts need to have a good sense of what they’re good at, and be able to step up to defend their accomplishments to nab the positions they want.

Lesson 2: Foster Deeper, More Meaningful Relationships with Primary Decision Makers

One misconception of introverts is that they are shy, afraid of socializing, or anti-social, when in fact introverts generate more energy through self-reflection. It’s not that they can’t talk to people, it’s that their energy levels dwindle during times of interaction.

What this means is that when introverts do form new connections, they tend to dive deeper than superficial small talk and foster more meaningful relationships with the people they talk to. This is their advantage—it allows them to relate in a memorable way to the people they talk to. And by meeting more important people in their companies and sharing their unique ideas, introverts can stand out.

Lesson 3: Apply the Attention to Detail and Listening Skills to Contribute More Thoughtful Ideas Into Discussions

A common characteristic among introverts is a more refined attention to detail, and the ability to listen. As they spend so much time in their own heads, they can work out often overlooked aspects of certain projects, and follow their gut to important endpoints.

It’s these qualities that make them valuable members of any team. They think and listen first, and speak second. By harnessing this innate ability in larger discussions that include different points of views, it’ll be no time before the people around them start leaning in to hear more.

Lesson 4: Take Time on Your Own to Recharge, But Challenge Yourself Socially Every Day

Most introverts feel at their best when they’re on their own, so it’s important for their well-being to have a certain amount of time in a day set aside to recharge, reflect, and bask in isolation. However, it’s equally important that they take some time to challenge themselves socially and in a low-threat situations, like going out to lunch with colleagues and participating more than usual in meetings.

One rule that known introvert Marissa Mayer uses to help her get through uncomfortable social situations is by glancing at her watch, setting a time for herself, and telling herself, “You are not allowed to leave until this time. If you are still having a terrible time by this time, then you can leave.” By forcing herself into that set timeframe, she is challenging herself to get over initial self-consciousness and opening herself up to the situation around her.

I’ve applied this in my own life. When I’m at a networking event, I always set a time that I can leave. For me this is typically around 30 to 45 minutes after I get there. I can force myself to network as much as possible because I know I don’t have to do it for that long, and this has helped me get over my introvertedness.

Lesson 5: Use Social Media, Email, and Public Forums to Your Best Advantage

Introverts might not be very active socially, but what they miss out on in lost interactions, they make up for in social media. Since introverts are known to communicate better with the written word, particularly behind a screen, it’s no surprise that many are extremely savvy in social networking.

Well, now’s a great time to be social network savvy! Having a big list of connections and the ability to write eloquent emails has never been more effective in convincing people of your skills and talents.

Being an introvert does not mean you cannot be a leader. It simply means you need to learn to play up your strengths.

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Photo of people talking illustration courtesy of Shutterstock.

Updated 6/19/2020