How to Support Your Introverts

Extroverts get a lot of the attention in organizations—and, often, an unfair share of the credit. Strong leadership means better recognizing how introverts also do their jobs.

This is a difficult time for introverts at organizations. Business literature celebrates the importance of teamwork over individual achievement, and hybrid offices can make more reserved workers feel invisible. And sometimes those who are treated that way are losing out on opportunities for promotions and other advancements. 

“In today’s competitive workplace, hard work isn’t enough,” executive coach Melody Wilding recently wrote in the Harvard Business Review. “You need to make sure your efforts are seen and acknowledged to unlock new opportunities and support.”

That’s a good message for the workers. But it’s also a signal to you, as a leader, to make efforts to see the introverts on your staff, board, and volunteer corps, since they often possess skills that are harder to find among other personality types.

Writing at the Wall Street Journal earlier this year, business scholar Leigh Thompson pointed out that introverts are perhaps a better fit for the moment than they’re thought to be. “Introverts show a greater capacity to engage, think through and make wise choices during periods of adversity and change,” she writes, adding that “they often possess a predisposition for things like empathy and thoughtful communication.” Studies also suggest that they tend to be more creative than extroverts, more willing to address challenges, and generally more resilient. 

Leaders need to reset their idea of what defines “passionate” engagement.

Despite all this, introverts tend to lose out. A Harvard Business School report points to studies showing that extroverts “get more attention from managers in the form of resources, raises, and promotions.” 

So how do you surface and reward the positive things introverts bring to an organization? The Harvard Business School report suggests that one first step is for leaders to reset their idea of what defines “passionate” engagement. Putting in extra hours or speaking up more in meetings do demonstrate enthusiasm. But so does quietly plugging away at a workflow process that makes your organization more efficient, and it’s important for leaders to acknowledge that form of engagement as well. 

Jon M. Jachimowicz, an HBS assistant professor behind the research, suggests that leaders can get in the habit of asking their people, “How do you typically express your passion?” and “What can I as a leader do to help you express your passion more?”

Moreover, it’s important to acknowledge that engagement when it’s expressed—however it’s expressed. Writing recently in Fast Company, HR leader Hannah Yardley discussed the concept of “emotional salary,” the emotional support that leaders provide to their people to support them and keep them engaged. Central to that concept is recognition, especially at organizations that may lack the resources for higher compensation. “When recognition is lacking in an employee experience strategy, employees are 27% more likely than average to pursue new jobs in 2024,” she writes. “Yet when included, they’re 22% less likely to report compensation is the number-one reason they would job hunt.”

And the recognition doesn’t have to be terribly sophisticated, Yardley adds. “Hearing ‘your energy was inspiring in today’s meeting’ or ‘your nonjudgmental demeanor makes me feel safe to ask questions’ can go a long way,” she writes. 

Too often, “introvert” is defined as insecure or shy, when it’s really just a different, less showy way of going about one’s business. That makes them enormously valuable contributors to your organization—and deserving of recognition for it.

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