The Introverted Leader

By 23 Jun ’14Blog

A few weeks ago my wife and I watched the movie, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. She, being one of an introverted preference, could relate well to the main character.

Walter is an employee at Life Magazine and is known for his tuning out and daydreaming. People make fun of him and disrespect him for it. In addition to this, when he is engaged in conversation he takes long periods of time before responding.

I sometimes work with teams to help them understand personality and it’s dynamics for teamwork. Doing this made me notice how this movie portrays introverts as liabilities to teams which is simply not true.

Introverts are the ones who process on the inside. While extroverts process on the outside. Introverts would rather be alone with their thoughts or with just a few people. While extroverts would rather be with more people and more often. Introverts think things over before saying them, extroverts talk things out before understanding completely what they are trying to say. The result is that introverts are often left in the dust while the extroverted team rushes forward with all their externally processed ideas. The assumption is that the people talking actually know what they are talking about while the silent ones don’t know anything.

Walter Mitty is an introverted leader. He has so much to offer the world, but because of his internal processing, he is ridiculed and made fun of. The movie ends with Walter learning to vocalize what he is thinking and him following up on his dreams. It’s quite powerful. You should take some time to watch the trailer below, take some time to watch the movie too.

But I think the takeaway from the movie for me was that those of us who prefer extroversion need to have a little more grace for our introverted colleagues and friends. Give them 10-20 seconds to think before asking another question. Be patient, draw them out. There are brilliant things inside introverts (my wife is one of them!). Deliberately including them in the conversation could change everything for you.

As for introverts, let the rest of the world know you are thinking about it by saying something like this: “I need a little time to process this.” Too much silence can be confusing to extroverts. Give an indicator that you are thinking on their question. If you need more time, say that. Extroverts need an indicator that something is going on inside of you.

If you are an introverted leader – know this: some of the most brilliant leaders of our time have been introverts. They are thoughtful and deliberate (like Nelson Mandela). You probably are too. Don’t think you have to keep up with the extroverts. Rather, put up a boundary so they know you need time. Present your ideas clearly like you are gifted to do and make the contribution that your team needs. It’s inside your head, design ways to allow it space to get out.