One of the biggest struggles I faced as a leader is simply being a conversationalist. And especially because of my introverted personality type, casual talk can be a challenge. If you nurture an introverted personality, like me, you definitely know what I mean. I can’t say I overcame this challenge during my time directly leading, but I will share with you what I did to channel the 28% of me that is extroverted. A lot of people don’t realize how tough of a leadership challenge this is. And many of the undiscerning may feel we come off as antisocial, not realizing you’d rather be as engaging as the next.
I will be vulnerable for a minute. During my courting years, spontaneous conversation was absolutely the toughest thing I ever had to face. I literally rather vomit than put myself out there to small talk. My hangout partners would easily break out into meaningless conversations with their unsuspecting prospects and enter a lengthy back-and-forth. For me, I didn’t have a library of cheesy one-liners, so I had to really get up for the introduction. Good thing they were interested or talkative; I could ride their conversational lead until I found the hook.
Leaders are in the People Business
Here’s the thing—you can allow your personality type to be a crutch or you can recognize the need to engage your people. I’m not talking about cheesy one-liners. I’m talking communication with depth. You are in the people business. That means you have to engage them, know who they are, what their challenges are, and very importantly, get them to know you. So, don’t concede to your personality profile. Here’s a point you should certainly consider—resist allowing your personality “type” to box you in. You are not the four letters of your personality type. Those only describe how you interact with the world, process information, and how you give back to the world. So don’t let them define you. Just allow them to be a window into your psyche. After all, you have absolute power over your tendencies. And in your position, you really need to.
Practical steps to ward off these instincts:
Practice small talk with non-threatening strangers
Set out to be incrementally social
Get them to talk about themselves
Be up-to-date on current events
Invest in conversations with eye contact and active listening.
Of the 5, I’ve detailed 3 that can really awaken your inner-extrovert:
1. Practice small talk with non-threatening strangers
Opening up to the grocery clerk, waiter, or your postal carrier are opportunities where nothing is invested but can have the same impact. Share with them something about your day, what you are about to cook, or ask for their opinion. Here’s a substantive question you can use that has depth: “What are you thinking about while doing this routine work?” There’s nothing to lose, so go all out.
2. Get up-to-date on current events
Having an understanding and opinion about what’s happening in the world is critical to breaking into small talk. Reading the news, listening to radio, or watching shows that are popular with the social network you intend to be around can give you a little credibility and confidence. This will give you a conversation at-the-ready that is valued and interesting. It’s not about just regurgitation–have an opinion.
3. Invest in conversations with eye contact and active listening
Yes, I said invest. Have some non-judgmental curiosity in the conversation. Investment requires a measure of vulnerability, candor, and empathy. I know opening up is a little risky but people will respect it. Just don’t go too far that it exposes an emotional trigger. It is not the time. You are still in the small talk phase. But connecting to another on their emotional level will cause them to lean in and you will then develop a bit of confidence to stay engaged in a more lengthy and substantive conversation.
I realize all ye introverts are being subconsciously drained mentally when it comes to dialogue with the unfamiliar. There is no avoiding this. As your confidence grows, it will get easier. But your personality is your personality and it will have these tendencies. As you practice leading people, this is critical to your number one activity–engagement. Look at your orientation as a strength as it focuses on internal feelings rather than on external sources of stimulation. Your people need you to be present, communicating, and connected. But this is an important takeaway–don’t force yourself to be extroverted. Things can unravel and all that you’ve invested will be lost because you left your authenticity under its protected shell.
The turtle’s shell never falls off and is never too large or too small because it grows with the turtle.
When you look at the guiding principles of my leadership development company, CORE—Earn Trust, Strengthen Relationships, and Build a Healthy Culture; all of these are interpersonal and require your full engagement. The principles are agnostic to personality types and very much dependent on your one-on-one and team motivation. Of course, you will have to exit your shell for engagement. But try this—allow your active listening skills to be yoursuperpower, learn to tell lived experiences as part of your influential allure, find your recharge trigger point, and be purposeful with getting back in the arena. This will maintain your authenticity, keep you invested, and pique their curiosity.
Let me finish by saying it is both natural and instinctive to be introverted like it would be for all other tendencies. It’s neither good nor bad. Fighting it could be a total lost cause. But to access your 28% on-demand, at least temporarily, in your role as leader needs to be intentional. It is not at all awkward when you are purposeful in your actions. Think about what you needed from your boss at the critical times when their presence was expected. Leadership is a contact sport. It’s not the time to curl up in your shell.
David Satchell was born and raised in Omaha, Nebraska. After joining the United States Air Force, he earned his Bachelor's Degree in Sociology and Masters in Human Resources while serving 30 years in the Air Force. After his retirement, he had a stint as an Operations Manager at Amazon. Then, he started his own leadership development company called CORE Leadership Consulting to "Help Leaders Win at Work." Satch's leadership style is to lead by "personal power," and leverages emotional intelligence, situational leadership, personality, and character as his method to inspire his coworkers. He wants to share the lessons he has learned by experience and now through a deep study on leadership, as he's navigated through the ranks and developed a reputation for inspiring individuals and teams toward increased performance.