Introverts can't be Managers
Introverts can’t be managers.
I have heard this statement from staff during objectives reviews and career counselling sessions. I like to ask the question “Do you think I am an introvert or an extrovert?” and invariably the answer comes back that they think I am an extrovert. Wrong! I have taken a number of personality tests over the years and I am a very strong introvert. I look at all the attributes of an introvert and I fit them perfectly, yet I have been in managerial positions for 20 years and I like to think I am reasonably successful at it. So why is there this impression that introverts can’t be managers?
I have no evidence for the following, it is merely my opinion based on my observations of people and my own self-analysis.
Let us look at the main properties of an introvert:
The natural inclination of an introvert is to hide away in a corner on their own and get on with whatever they have to do; they keep ideas in their heads without vocalising them; they think about things quietly; they are difficult for others to know well and only let a few people in close to them.
The key phrase in the above sentence is “natural inclination”. This is not a bad thing (says the introvert!) as that is what you are most comfortable with and the way that you are most effective. However, that is not too good for a manager, especially a test manager, who spends a lot of their day communicating with people.
How do you know if you are introvert or an extrovert? I would suggest that you take the Myers-Briggs test as I have found it to be the most reliable measure (see http://www.myersbriggs.org/) and get yourself tested.
So how does an introvert become an effective manager? I can only go from my own experience, my own way of dealing with being an introvert and from the advice and guidance I have given to other introverts.
The key message is to break out of your comfort zone. Force yourself to take on attributes of an extrovert. Note, I am not saying that you should try to change your personality to be an extrovert as that is not good for you personally, but in your professional life “act” like an extrovert. A Myers-Briggs consultant called me a “learned extrovert” which means that I learned how to behave like an extrovert when the situation demanded it.
This learned extrovert behaviour is difficult for us introverts and takes time and a lot of practice and you never stop learning. As an example, one of the worst nightmares for an introvert is giving a presentation, especially to people you don’t know. I had to give a presentation to 150 people, most of whom I didn’t know. I was highly stressed before the presentation and dreaded it, but I pushed myself to perform and I got great reviews for the presentation. I have given training courses in the past, still do the odd one, for people I have never met and this is highly stressful as you are performing for 1, 2, 3 or 4 days. Again, you have to push yourself to do it. It gets easier the more you do it, but it never stops being difficult. One of the training courses I give is on how to do presentations and I inevitably get the introverts saying “but I don’t like doing it and you make it look so easy” Yes, I do, but I am quaking inside, it is a matter of managing your nerves and not giving in to them.
You don’t have to give presentations or training courses to “get over” being an introvert, just push yourself to speak out more when with others. You will feel uncomfortable, that is natural for you, but force yourself.
So far, I have concentrated on the negative aspects of being an introverted manager, but there are positives as well. We are generally better at managing other introverts as we understand them and can empathise. We think things through before opening our mouths and therefore, hopefully, have a more coherent conversation than the loud mouthed extrovert who thinks with their mouth open. This can be a useful trait when you are trying to persuade.
An important point. If you are introvert, do not try to suppress your introverted nature, you can make yourself ill (seriously, it can bring on illness). So make time for yourself, make sure you take a lunch break on your own sometimes, make sure you do have think-time. Personally, I find that meditation is very effective for me although some people find it useless.
Finally, then, a message for all introverts, you can be an effective manager. If that is what you would like to do, go for it.