“Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.”
Einstein. Gandhi. Buffet. Want to know what these three great minds have in common?Advertising
They’re all introverts.
As all introverts know, extroversion is an ideal that’s celebrated and revered in our society. It starts at a young age, too. Susan Cain, in her novel Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, says:
“If you’re an introvert, you also know that the bias against quiet can cause deep psychic pain. As a child you might have overheard your parents apologize for your shyness. Or at school you might have been prodded to come “out of your shell”—that noxious expression which fails to appreciate that some animals naturally carry shelter everywhere they go, and some humans are just the same.”
Surely Ms. Cain is onto something there, when you consider that some of the greatest leaders in the history of mankind have been introverts. Introverts are often misunderstood. And not all leaders should be brash, loud, and charismatic. The world also needs leaders who show poise; exhibit great listening skills; analyze complex situations before making a decision; and exude calm in times of conflict.
Here are 5 tips any introvert can use to become a better leader.
1. Listen first, talk second.
This is something that comes naturally to introverts, and it’s an oft-underutilized skill in the business world. One key to being viewed as a respected leader is to actively listen to your friends/clients/followers and then provide guidance and answers. According to Susan Cain, “There’s zero correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas.”Advertising
2. Step up during times of crisis.
Crises, both at home and at work, are a part of life. It’s how you respond to these moments of adversity that matter. So step up and be the “voice of reason” when bad stuff happens. Where others might see a crisis, introverted leaders see an opportunity.
3. Get out of your comfort zone.
As an introvert, you are likely more comfortable working alone than with people. You may not like to speak in front of groups. But the reality is, these are things that all great leaders need to do sometimes. So force yourself to participate in “small talk” once in a while, even if you think it’s useless. Take a public speaking class. Volunteer to take the lead on a new project at work that you may not know much about. Work on getting a little better at the things you’re not particularly great at each week.
4. Get into your comfort zone.
Introverts spend a lot of time in their own heads. And we need this time. It’s how we recharge, reflect, and come up with great ideas. So set time aside every single day. Even if it’s 15 minutes. Find somewhere quiet to sit down and just breathe. Let the thoughts flow through your head like clouds. And when you’re done, jot down any new ideas that came to mind, which leads to our next tip.Advertising
5. Write it down.
Introverts tend to be better at writing than speaking. That’s why you should put your ideas down on paper before you speak about them. And here’s a tip for making your key points “stick”, whether it’s during a business meeting or after speaking at a conference: leave them with something. Create a simple 1- or 2-page document summing up your salient points, answering anticipated questions and objections, and offering to answer any additional questions.
So you’ll probably notice a trend with most of these leadership tips. Most of them come naturally to introverts. So utilize your strengths. Acknowledge, accept and improve upon your weaknesses. And always remember this:
“In a gentle way, you can shake the world.”
The Gentle Art of Saying No
It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.
But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.
What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.
But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:
- Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
- Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
- Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
- Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
- Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
- Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
- Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
- Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
- Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
- It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.
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