How to Leverage an Introverted Personality in BusinessExcellent listening skills and deep focus can go much further than a big personality.
When you think of a business leader, you probably imagine a gregarious extrovert who can speak confidently in public, thrive among large groups and promote themselves shamelessly.
Where does that leave introverts? Can people who are more comfortable in solitude be successful as business owners?
Absolutely, according to Beth Buelow, a certified professional coach and author of “The Introvert Entrepreneur.” “Introversion is not a liability,” she said. “If you choose to understand the strengths of being an introvert, then you can carve your own path as an entrepreneur.”
She said success for an introverted entrepreneur hinges on understanding the true definition of being an introvert. It doesn’t mean you’re a loner or hate people. It means you gain energy from being alone in a calm atmosphere, whereas extroverts feel energized in groups and stimulating environments.
“If you own that energy and see it as an asset, you have something you can work with.”
Here, Buelow shares tips on leveraging your strengths as an introvert to achieve success with your small business.
Embrace your independence — to a point
Introverts have a natural independence streak, which can be a strength for a small business owner, said Buelow.
“Independence is a defining factor of how suited you are for entrepreneurship because you won’t have that structure a large corporation will give you,” she said. And embracing your independence will give you the confidence to take risks.
“Introverts often prefer going against the grain and flying solo. We can be decisive and make choices based on our own reflection,” she said.
But no matter how independent you are, there’s no way you can accomplish everything on your to-do list alone. Buelow said introverts should be make a point to ask for help when they need it. “We can be reluctant to pull people into our processes because it drains us. But if we wait too long to reach out for help, we risk sabotaging ourselves,” she said.
Hire a team to support you
While extroverts tend to dabble in a variety of interests, introverts dive deep into a single area of expertise. Buelow says leveraging this focus can help you become an expert in your business field.
“Introverts really strive for mastery. We want to be the best we can in whatever we have decided to establish as a business,” she said.
While introverts have the focus to learn everything there is to know about a particular area, as small business owners they can feel pulled in a million directions. Buelow suggests hiring people to help in other areas of your business, so you can focus on what really matters.
“To be successful in business, you have to pay attention to your niche and differentiation from other people in the market. Being able to create that time to learn and focus will help you develop a sustainable, successful company.”
Build trust by listening
If there’s one thing introverts do particularly well, it’s listening, said Buelow. While it might seem important to speak up as a business owner, harnessing your natural listening abilities can accelerate the growth of your company.
“Listening seems like a very basic, soft skill, but it’s really at the core of what connects you to your market, your customer and yourself,” she said.
An introverted entrepreneur’s quiet, direct nature will help clients and customers feel heard, and they’ll be more likely to trust you. A manager who listens more than she speaks also instills loyalty in staff, Buelow added.
Buelow reminds her clients that in business, listening is as important a skill as networking and sales.
“People want to know somebody is listening to them and not just waiting to talk. If we’re not listening, we can’t respond as a business and we can’t be proactive about creating products and services that solve our customers’ problems.”
Most successful entrepreneurs will tell you that relationships are critical to growing a business. But if attending networking nights and engaging in self-promotion feel stressful, how can you build relationships with others?
“They’ll tend to play the introvert card and avoid events, so they need to find another way to network,” said Buelow.
Getting together with others for happy hour or attending a big event doesn’t work for most introverts. But meeting with one or two people in a low-key setting, like a café, will give you the space to build meaningful contacts, she said.
Focus on the quality, not quantity, of your network.
“As an introvert, I’d rather know five people who will be champions for me and my business, instead of 100 people I’m loosely tied with,” said Buelow. “Nurturing those relationships is a more efficient use of your energy.”
Buelow said that deepening relationships doesn’t always require in-person meetings, which take up a lot of energy for introverts.
“A series of small touches done consistently will help you make significant progress. Passing along a resource, sharing an article, making an introduction or sending a handwritten note are all tiny pieces of a process that connects us to others without needing to sell ourselves.”
Lead from behind
An introvert’s tendency to take a behind-the-scenes approach when guiding others can actually be a more effective form of leadership than the “conspicuous leader” approach extroverted entrepreneurs tend to have, said Buelow.
“Extroverts’ charisma can be a barrier for people to approach them. Introverts’ charisma isn’t about a larger-than-life persona. We lead from behind — we’re the plow horse rather than the show horse,” she said. Introverts will succeed in leadership roles if they realize it’s OK to put the needs of the company and staff at the forefront, she said.
“Charisma can come from simply being the person that lifts other people up and really listens to them and sets them up for success. This will help you become a really strong leader.”
Manage your energy
Ambitious entrepreneurs sometimes fill their schedule with tons of appointments and events. But engaging with others at such a high frequency is the fastest way to burnout for an introvert, said Buelow.
“Pay attention to your energy flow as much as your cash flow,” she said. “You need to be strategic about scheduling and what you say ‘yes’ to.”
Look at your calendar as blocks of energy, not hours. “An extrovert might say, ‘I’ve got eight hours today, that’s enough for eight appointments.’ For me, that looks more like two potential appointments with enough solitary time to balance it out.”
However, try to avoid falling into the trap of too much solitude, said Buelow.
“If you lack focus or feel irritable or restless, those are signs that you need to get out of your head and connect with others. Brief social encounters, like working in a coffee shop or calling a friend, will reorient yourself to the world.”