Ten years ago, the term “introverted leader” might have painted a picture of a shy recluse, reluctantly serving at the head of her company. Oh, how times have changed.
Today, the research is clear—introverted leaders are everywhere, and are powerfully using their own superpowers of quiet strength in today’s world of work.
Maybe you’re one of them. Or maybe you work with an introverted leader and want to understand them better.
If so, this video interview is for you. Author Jennifer Kahnweiler, Ph.D, has spent over a decade researching and interviewing introverts and defining the qualities and skills that help them lead. She recently released the second edition of her worldwide hit, The Introverted Leader: Building on Your Quiet Strength. The first edition has been translated into over 16 languages.
I recently chatted with Jennifer about the new book, the world of introverts today, and the things those of us who are introverted leaders can do to bring their superpowers to work.
My Interview with Jennifer Kahnweiler, author of “The Introverted Leader”
Transcript, edited for readability
Darcy: Hi everyone, it’s Darcy Eikenberg of Red Cape Revolution. I’m so excited to be talking to somebody who has been a longtime friend and inspiration to me. That’s Jennifer Kahnweiler, an author, a speaker, and a coach. She is about to relaunch the book that started it all. I want to introduce you to her.
Jennifer: Hi Darcy, it’s great to see you. I noticed we’re wearing the same color today. I also know that you’re a Northwestern fan. I didn’t do that purposely, but I’m glad it all worked out.
Darcy: Exactly, I’m wearing blue but we can pretend it’s purple!
Jennifer: Oh that’s right! It came across as purple on my screen, but we’ll make it work.
Darcy: Go ‘Cats!
I’m excited to hear about the update of your book, The Introverted Leader. This book was just about to come out when you and I first met. Tell me about the book as it first started, and now.
Jennifer: Great question. Darcy, you and I met probably about ten years ago. That’s when the idea of writing the Introverted Leader emerged.
I had been working in many organizations where I kept coming up as a coach and leadership development trainer and consultant with the same issue. I would come up and meet many people who were introverted, a lot of folks from the technical area. They were feeling ignored or overlooked. I would work with them on helping them draw from their natural strengths.
I would look for resources, and lo and behold – you look for the book and can’t find it so you decide to write it.
You were aware of that early on– I was collecting a lot of notes, anecdotes, and stories and I started looking at the research. There wasn’t a lot of official research so I decided to do my own. That was the genesis of the book.
It came out in 2009, so it’s almost 10 years from when we’re recording this interview. Since that time, it was a great opportunity for me to get the conversation going in the workplace about introverts. We go from a time back then when people would come up to me and say it’s an oxymoron–you can’t have introvert and leader in the same sentence, that doesn’t fit.
I would talk to people about the fact that introverts have so many strengths, in terms of preparation, quiet time, reflection, analysis, the list goes on. People weren’t seeing this as fitting into the typical charismatic, out-there version of a leader. As time has gone on, many others started emerging. It was around that time – I think introverts had been under-looked for so long, now it has bubbled to the surface. It has become more a part of the conversation in the workplace.
Darcy: I think Quiet came out maybe three years or so after your book. I remember seeing that and saying, “I think Jennifer did it first!”
Jennifer: Well, Susan (Cain, the author of Quiet) was researching her book for a long time. But it was really great, Adam Grant – New York Times’ Best Selling author, actually had done the first large scale study of introverts in the workplace. Adam had stumbled upon my book, and introduced me to Susan Cain.
We connected early on in the process, and it’s been a great partnership. She really broke open on a massive scale the discussion about introversion.
My books have come in with providing practical tools for individuals, leaders, and organizations to use as they are trying to harness the power of people who are more introverted, which is between 40% to 60% of any organization world wide. I had no idea that it was going to really resonate the way it did. The books in sum have been translated into 16 languages; this one into multiple languages.
Darcy: That’s great. We’ll post links to other interviews that you and I have done together as well.
Let’s take a step back for people who are just now getting a chance to meet you, or haven’t heard much about some of the work that’s happened to really clarify this language of introverts, extroverts.
What exactly is an extrovert and introvert, in the real world use today?
Jennifer: Introversion is about where you get your energy. Introverts get their energy from within themselves, from taking quiet time, being in solitude. They live in their heads quite a bit.
It’s almost like a spectrum. Extroverts get their energy from other people. You and I self identify as extroverts. We get energized from people. That said, it’s not either or. Most people are clustered not at the ends of the bell curve. My husband Bill who is an extreme introvert – most people are in the middle, normal range of the bell curve. It’s a nice way to think of it.
We tend to have a preference for one side or another.
One of the ways that introverts can self identify is to figure out, “How badly must I need to decompress and have quiet time after being with people?”
If you answered with, “Well, it would be nice to have quiet time.” You may not be an introvert, or only very slight. But if you say that you must have that time, it’s likely you’re an introvert. Introverts know that they’re introverts. I think that’s one barometer.
But what I write about in this book, and I’ve learned so much from talking to people in my speaking audiences and my clients in coaching, as well as many readers – as they have shared these stories with me, it’s really interesting to learn more about how introversion plays out.
It’s not so much trying to spend time figuring out if you’re an introvert or extrovert. It’s really about what the most successful leaders that I have found do know about themselves. They understand that behaviors are what really matter.
So if it’s working for you to be quiet in your meetings, and maybe just have a few inputs at work, that’s okay. You have to learn which areas you need to develop.
Maybe you need to develop more on your presentation skills, because that’s what people are looking at as a success factor in your organization. I know you work a lot with people about that. Not trying to change everything about themselves, but looking at what comes from them naturally. What are their strengths that they can leverage and use even more?
Darcy: I love the take that you had on that it’s around understanding yourself first. Doing a lot of work, clarify – but then also making those choices to know yourself. “Okay, after a big event, I need to go hide. I don’t want to do the cocktail hour or long dinner.” And to intentionally plan for that.
I do that for myself sometimes – I’m not on the extreme end of the extrovert, I also need that focus quiet alone time. If I spent a day in front of an audience of people, facilitating, coaching, managing – I need to have a night where I’m just alone, thinking.
I just don’t want to be out all of the time. I think knowing ourselves and making those choices intentionally is good. You have those tools where, as people are continuing to know themselves but also are trying to be the best that they can be in a world that still seems to favor extroverts.
Jennifer: It doesn’t seem to, it does! There is still a tremendous amount of bias.
Individuals can change – there is more of an understanding one on one like with having these conversations, or at work when I present this information to a company or a class – people are engaged and they’re talking. Any other kind of aspect of diversity, people don’t know what they don’t know.
So once we start those conversations, and people are talking within the offices, deciding that they need time alone or managers knowing how to be flexible… actually having the conversation is making the big difference, for sure.
I love that you say you’re honoring your time.
I truly think one of the benefits of having the “rise of the introverts” is that we’re all getting in touch with our introverted side, myself included.
Taking a yoga class, or not over scheduling yourself. Research is resounding about creativity and innovation. There’s a stimulation of ideas that can happen.
Steve Wozniak may have talked to people, but then he went back alone and created. There are just so many examples of that within art and science. There is a tremendous amount of strength and power that comes from the introvert’s sensibility. I think we all need to get in touch with that, and we’re better for it.
Darcy: What’s your recommendation for someone that is an introvert, or knows they need those other tools, time, space, and they’re in a workplace that feels very different than that?
What would they need to know or do to manage successfully through that, and still be able to stay who they are?
Jennifer: It’s tough. If the culture is going against you – it is challenging, but it is definitely how we change things too. To be a little more specific, let’s imagine a meeting. In a meeting, you want to have a balance. You want to use your strength of preparation to know what’s on the agenda, what questions you can prepare, and introverts who do that are seen as much more competent as well.
They have done the legwork, they’re not just running into the meeting at last minute and winging it, as extroverts can do really well. But there’s not a lot of depth there. So depth versus breadth is one of the characteristics I write about in the book.
Number one, using your strengths that you already have. There are also tools in the book about talkers. One example is that you’ve got people who are just going on and on, right? So one thing that you’re trained to do is to just be nice and nod.
If you’ve ever thought about not doing that, not engaging, not smiling, being a blank wall – or if you’re interrupted, using a gesture, just like they do on the talk shows when they’re yelling at each other – that’s not the most civil, so try saying their name – “John, I’d like to finish my thought.”
It’s also good to have allies in the meeting. So if you have a friend or colleague in the meeting, and they know it happens to you a lot, they can also intervene. They can say, “We haven’t really let Darcy finish her thought.” It doesn’t have to be directly on.
I also learned a lot about an approach when I was researching quiet influence – I looked at, “What do introverts do to really get their ideas adopted, when they don’t have position power in an organization? What are the tools that they use?”
One of the things is that they capitalize on their one on one conversations. They do engaged listening. They listen and float objections, particularly if you’re trying to get an idea adopted or you want to explore an idea with a colleague or a teammate, it may not be the best place to do that in a meeting or a conference call. It’s just not going to be to your strength.
But if you can have a rich conversation with that person offline, you’re going to have more of an advocate in that meeting, and you can prepare for that meeting without being blind sided.
A lot of times it goes back to preparation.
Darcy: I recall from some of your earlier work – because the introvert can value the one on one conversation, they can prepare for it, and it’s a more satisfying experience – they can also build better relationships. They listen more closely, not always waiting to get their perspective in.
This comes in handy so much today, in a world where we’re longing for connections more than ever. Relationships are the next technology to help us grow.
I hear from leaders thinking about what’s next, and they just don’t want to do networking and they hate those big meetings… You don’t have to! You can go one on one. That’s the goal of standards still.
Jennifer: I agree with you on that. I’ve been seeing that more and more as I’ve been meeting with people one on one. There’s richness in that. The last three meetings, I had at coffee shops with introverts. I floated that question for them, and asked what it’s like for them.
They said, “I like it! As long as I don’t have too many of these during the day, I can plan.” We had some really rich conversations. We can do it on the phone too, it’s not just face to face.
For introverts, that can be a good thing too – networking, building relationships online, or through social media and get to know people, and then you can choose to connect with them afterwards or not.
I’ll talk a little bit about what’s new in this new book. I kept some of the old that worked. Don’t throw away what’s working!
So, we built on that four piece framework. Prepare, presence, push, practice.
I took that from the research that I did with successful introverted leaders. What do you do in different scenarios, whether it be managing up, leading, communicating or coaching, all the different things you’re faced with as a leader – they do those four things.
Carefully devise a game plan. Be focused on the present moment. Push, go beyond your comfort zone. Practice, sharpen your expertise.
If you talk to successful introverted leaders in many different industries across the globe, they will tell you that they do this intentionally. They will take an area that they want to work on, and they will do these four things. It’s a good coaching tool as well.
Darcy: I love that preparation is such a foundation there. I think we’re often feeling pressured to move fast, but the reality is, just having a little bit of time set aside to know what you want, the obstacles, a plan – that’s a strategy that we all could use a little bit more. By then, you feel more in control.
You’ve thought through things. There’s great neuroscience research that says if you experience it in your mind first, it’s less intimidating or scary when you experience it in real life. So prepare, presence…
Jennifer: Presence. Being present in the moment.
You’re not thinking about what happened yesterday or what’s going to happen. That allows you to do the great listening that you do, the observation, the picking up on when things are shifting.
If you’re doing a presentation and you notice people are checking their phones or they’re tuned out, how do you actually shift from your plan to do something else? To be in the moment, and to be aware of that – that’s key.
Darcy: Then there’s push. Beyond your comfort zone – I always say, discomfort is the new comfort zone. If you’re not uncomfortable, you’re usually not growing.
Jennifer: Eleanor Roosevelt said that. Everyday, we have to do something that makes us feel uncomfortable – I’m paraphrasing. But that lady sure did well, didn’t she?
One of the things that’s been a change in the book, I’ve condensed some of the chapters. I’ve tightened up the leadership, I put some scripts in there that people could say in coaching and communicating.
For example, if you have several points, and you want people to listen – say, “I have three points to make.
Number one, then number two…” So everyone is listening for the three points. These tools can be so helpful in getting the attention, without saying “Hey! Stop interrupting me!”
Darcy: And to set the framework, because the brain hates an open loop. So if you say that you have three points, people are waiting for your third point!
Jennifer: Right, exactly. I love those practical tools. I also added new research about workplace spaces. I get questions about moving to an open space, cutting down the walls, where’s my cubicle! I totally feel their pain. I worked out of an office environment for so long.
But in my own example, I’m extroverted but I’ve connected with my introverts on this – I go to a co-working space a couple of times a week, and I’ve found that there are a lot of introverts there.
Why is that? Because the concept I identify with is communal solitude, that people like to also be around. So when my publisher moved to that – and I’d have to say maybe 80% of those people are introverts – I thought they would go crazy.
However, even the most introverted among them said that they did okay with it. Why is that? There’s more collaboration going on.
The caveat is that you need to have options for people to also be alone.
Huddle rooms, where introverts and extroverts can naturally co-mingle is what Steve Jobs did at Pixar. He designed it so that people would have to co-mingle naturally. So there’s a lot to be said to that.
But I think huddle rooms or pods would be very helpful. Also, remote working! Many jobs can be done while not in the office. Having that as an option can allow people to work on the task that they need to, and get the rhythm that they need going, away from the office. Having a lot of choices helps, and being aware of creating an introvert friendly work environment is a plus now.
Darcy: And even thinking about, as a leader, who your people are when you’re making some of these decisions and when you are planning these things out. Are there alternatives for different types of work? Are there alternatives for different types of people that we might need or have in the future? I’ve seen so many companies be all this or all that. But it’s a bell curve, somewhere in between.
Jennifer: Absolutely, you and I have been in many organizations where we’ve seen them swing, and they swing right back again. That’s true. A lot of times it may just be a small change that you make.
One small change I like to share with people is, we’ve heard about brainstorming to be the way to generate creative ideas, but that’s been challenged a lot in research. The ideas don’t necessarily come when you’re talking them out. And you’re not hearing from half the people in the room, and you’re building on the extrovert’s ideas, so it goes in another direction.
Using the tools of writing, this is a simple way to bring another introvert perspective into it. Think about it for a minute before we say it. Introverts think first, talk later. Extroverts talk first, think later. It’s kind of true. They think verbally and work it out. They don’t know what they think until they say it, there’s nothing wrong with that but we don’t want that to be the only way that we get work done.
So I was in one group where one said, “No, can’t we just talk?” I encouraged him to try something else. It’s just like when you ask people to be quiet for a few seconds. One woman just shrieked, she couldn’t handle it. Some people just aren’t comfortable with silence. We’re only talking about taking a minute to think, or 30 seconds. But I think that’s something we can train our brains to do.
Darcy: I might have to today, because I think there are fewer and fewer opportunities to force us to do that. The times that I have been quiet are when I actually start to recognize what I think about things, what my opinion is, and what my course of action is.
Jennifer: Right. You and I have done peer coaching with each other, but then we go back and reflect on it. So again, that’s an introvert technique or approach that is natural. Introverts will appreciate it.
Believe it or not, the extroverts will also benefit. We have to bring it into consciousness. Are we structuring our meetings or events in a way that is just geared to extroverts, just as we always have? Are we designing our new office thinking about the introverts? Ask them!
After the book came out, I did a program at a national federal agency, and this was very impressive– one day – there were a lot of brainiacs there, and the woman that brought me in was very pleased to show me where they had had the recent holiday party. She walked into the cafeteria and said that’s where they had it. They had decorated, but they created little talking spaces that gave places for people to talk quietly in small groups. People loved it and they were going to continue it and they created more for next year.
So, just ask the introverts and ask what they would like. You don’t want to just be standing around with a cocktail and hors d’oeuvres not being able to hear anyone else in the party.
Darcy: It’s very interesting. There’s so much good stuff in this book, I’m so excited for the next version of the book.
Jennifer: Well, this version coming up!
Darcy: Right! So where can people find the book and more about you?
Jennifer: The best place to go is my website, I’m sure you’ll put it up there on the blog post. JenniferKahnweiler.com. I’m also very active on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. If you want to engage that way, or drop me an email, that would be great.
We also have a new quiz that I encourage people to take. You can gauge how you’re doing as an introverted leader, or as a leader in general.
It’s very short and we’re going to compile the results, because we’re getting a lot of response to it, and we’ll make that available to show you where you fit in and what you might want to focus on. So that’s on my website. Thank you so much for having me, it’s always a pleasure.
Darcy: We’ll make sure we have links to this. The book is the Introverted Leader, it’s a brand new update with all new stories, from Dr. Jennifer Kahnweiler. I’m so glad to celebrate this with you and share these ideas with our audience! So if you are someone who is an introverted leader or love someone who is, make sure you go pick up the book! Get on some of Jennifer’s information blogs, follow her on Twitter, and I know you’ll continue to grow your leadership so that you can keep bringing your superpowers to work. I’m Darcy Eikenberg, and thanks again to our guest!
Jennifer: Thank you! Bye everyone!
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