In this age where every person feels the need for a relationship with people they do business with, introverts like me might seem to be at a distinct disadvantage. Most of us just don’t have the urge to proactively get out and talk to new people, face-to-face, online, or through an app. This is equally hard at work, especially when many of our peers may be remote, anywhere in the world.
Fortunately, there is more and more evidence that introverts still succeed in business, as several of our most successful companies were founded and led by introverts. For example, you probably never realized that Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Warren Buffett, and Elon Musk all claim to have at least started as introverts. Take confidence from these that you can persevere and win as well.
In fact, I found some excellent guidance on how to capitalize on your strengths, as well as areas that you may need to focus, in a new book, “The Introvert’s Complete Career Guide,” by Jane Finkle, also one of us, who has been a successful career coach for more than two decades.
She demonstrates how to use your introverted qualities to their best advantage, and then develop a sprinkling of extroverted qualities to round out a forceful combination for ultimate business success. The key strategies she recommends, with my own priorities and insights, include the following:
- Be consistently very good at what you do. In business and in your career, there is no substitute for focus and hard work, whether you are an introvert or an extrovert. The more your work speaks for itself, the less self-promotion and marketing will be required. At the same time, you can never forget to communicate specifics to managers and customers.
I personally worked with Bill Gates back in the early PC days, and I was continually impressed with his ability to deliver tough technical solutions on time, and with real innovations. Yet he was also good at subtly communicating his extra effort and value.
- Be self-directed with your business goals. Don’t wait for someone else to decide what your next role or business objective should be. Being an introvert is no excuse for not communicating your interests and objectives to the people who can help. Take control of your own future through directed communication, targeted actions, training and practice.
By definition, a leader is not someone who always follows others. Warren Buffett, while working as a stockbroker, set his own investment strategy and took a Dale Carnegie speaking course to more effectively communicate it. The results speak for themselves.
- Don’t be afraid to take calculated risks. Avoid getting stuck in a rut because the usual approach is seductively familiar and safe. Try new techniques and approaches that take you outside your comfort zone, or raise your fear level at first. Be prepared to do the extra research and practice required to turn risk into leadership and success.
One approach is to identify an emerging trend that could impact your organization or business, and volunteer to join an initiative to capitalize on it. Think beyond just attending industry conferences, to being on a “futures” panel, or even presenting your own ideas.
- Keep ahead of others on use of new technology. Technological advances continue to accelerate and are driving change in business, so don’t let your introversion be perceived as indicative of an old dog that can’t learn new tricks. Embrace new technology as an ally, and use it to advance your leadership position over peers and competitors.
Elon Musk has always been controversial, and has sometimes stumbled, as he stepped boldly into his vision of private space travel to Mars, and the growth of his Tesla electric car business. Yet he is consistently viewed as a leader in multiple technological areas.
- Stay extra savvy about your business domain. Introverts really have the advantage in being able to listen and watch carefully to fully understand the corporate culture and behavioral norms, such as how the company is thriving, where it’s faltering, and who is on their way up or out. Then find the best way to fit into the picture, without compromise.
These days, for example, it’s valuable to think globally about market and career shifts and opportunities, while others are focused only on the local domain. Make every effort to get there first, and suddenly you will find that people will follow your lead without talking.
In any business environment, it’s important that you not think of your introversion as a big weakness. Yet it is always valuable to hone a few extrovert skills, forcing you to move beyond your comfort zone in facing a changing world. If you are already an extravert, the strategies here will help you as well, by giving you that well-rounded view that we all need to succeed today.