How introverts can succeed as leaders and entrepreneurs

How to manage people and run a business in an extrovert’s world

(Photo: Daniel Ehrenworth)

(Daniel Ehrenworth)

Last month, we asked you how introverts could succeed as entrepreneurs. After a little coaxing we heard from plenty of introverts who are making their way just fine in an extroverted world. Here’s what they told us about how they manage:

Network on your terms

It’s a misunderstanding that introverts don’t like to be around people. Introverts are very good at meaningful, mutually beneficial connections, ideally gained via one-on-one conversations. But when it comes to networking, less is more. Go only to those events that are inherently interesting to you. And get there early or on time. If you get there late, you will walk into a room full of loud people in conversation—a scenario you hate. Introverts do well when they have a purpose, so volunteer at events you want to attend. This will position you as someone helpful and friendly.

Devora Zack, consultant and author, Managing for People Who Hate Managing

Fake it ‘til you make it

My introverted nature is constantly challenged in an extroverted business world. My approach is to act as if I am an extrovert. For instance, when I’m at a networking function, I try to act as if I’m the most comfortable person in the room. I smile a lot and introduce myself to people while avoiding the thoughts of bolting. I also ask a lot of questions. Extroverts love to talk about themselves, and that makes it easier for me.

Karen Renaud, vice-president, Cambridge House International, Vancouver

Exploit technology

The key characteristic of a genuine introvert is humility, which happens to be the antithesis of a successful professional today. Thankfully, we live in a globalized world where I can put forth my ideas and work through concepts online, and get feedback from others like me. This also allows me to build credibility, which in turn creates opportunities that normally wouldn’t be there due to my lack of networking. “Success” isn’t really the end goal of a true introvert; a job well done is. It’s a marketable trait but not easy to sell today, so our “jobs well done” need to be on display for all to see. Thanks be to Google!

“Introfessional,” via

Schedule solo time

You’ll do your best work if you have a healthy combination of solo planning and public interaction. Make—and honour—appointments with yourself, with no interruptions. Plan for two hours of downtime for every one hour of public time.

We introverts have such a rich inner dialogue, we can forget that we haven’t shared our thoughts with others. It’s important to over-communicate in those situations. E-mail is usually efficient, but be wary of overusing it if you know that people have a deep emotional investment in the process or outcome.

Beth Buelow, coach and CEO of The Introvert Entrepreneur, Tacoma, Wash.

Focus on strengths

One major advantage I have as an entrepreneur who’s an introvert is the ability to listen patiently to others. I don’t have a pressing need to hear my own voice or force others to accept my point of view.

Anonymous, via e-mail

Got a challenge you’d like to run by your peers? Write to us at Next up: Do you expect staff to be available at off-hours? Tell us how you deal with a 24-7 work world.