The demand for “executive presence”

– thriving as an introvert in my organisation

A person who wants to lead the orchestra
must turn their back on the crowd.
— Max Lucado

One of the latest buzzwords within organisations is “executive presence.” Apparently, you need to have it to succeed — of course, no one really gives you much advice on what that means. You just might receive some vague feedback that you have it!

This is particularly problematic for those of us who are more introverted. Companies so often seem to value and promote the loud and confident – not recognising the focused, thoughtful and wise.

The quiet voices in the room

It was a lively meeting. Lots of discussion – an hour of give and take.

Some people have dominated the conversation. Others remain mostly quiet, listening carefully. The leader says, “It’s important to hear from everyone,” so in closing every person is asked for a final comment. Some have energetic responses, others make some thoughtful, general comments.

But when everyone has left, did we really capture the best from all the participants?

So often our meetings usually favour the strengths of extraverts. Those who are introverted find it hard to break through the subtle, deep rooted bias that favours those who are loud and confident.

Finding your voice, being heard

In many ways, executive presence is about inspiring the confidence of those around you. They feel that you are capable, courageous and collaborative. This can be a struggle for some introverts to be heard and shine professionally and relationally. The challenge is obvious:

Interaction is the extravert’s strength whereas reflection is the strength of introverts.

Extraverts love the rapid give-and-take of meetings. Introverts love to think about things first, so meetings can interfere with their reflection.

Extraverts prefer to think out loud, speaking to shape their thinking. Introverts work the other way round, thinking first before having something worth saying. While extraverts get clarity by speaking, introverts get clarity by writing.

This all means that generally introverts don’t do their best thinking in groups. But after the meeting, upon reflection, their insights can be priceless. The real wisdom in a team may be tucked away, inside the quiet voices.

At The Colloquium Group we have developed executive learning circles for introverts. These are small group experiences designed to help introverts survive and thrive as professional leaders.

So, am I an introvert?

We’ve developed a quick 8 question quiz to help you answer this question.

Answer each question mostly TRUE or mostly FALSE:

  • I prefer one-on-one conversations to group activities.
  • I often prefer to express my thoughts in writing.
  • I enjoy solitude.
  • I like to celebrate birthdays on a small scale, with only one or two close friends, rather than a large group.
  • I prefer not to show or discuss my work with others until it’s finished.
  • I do my best work on my own.
  • I like to fully form my thoughts before I test them out on others.
  • I feel drained after being out and about, even if I’ve enjoyed myself.

If you marked these mostly TRUE then you favour introversion.

If you marked these mostly FALSE then you favour extraversion.

For executive presence
— play to your strengths

If you are an introvert seeking to exhibit executive presence, you will be most effective by recognising and working with the great strengths you already have. Remember this:

You are self-motivated. Happy when you can work at your own pace, immersed in what you enjoy. You don’t need much external supervision or external stimulation to keep you going.

You listen more than you speak. This means that you are taking in lots of information, much of it is missed by others. You pick up details and hints that extraverts often overlook.

You think before you speak. Subsequently, your words carry weight. Introverts are known for their wisdom and poise because they always take the time to think things through. Contrary to the stereotype Introverts can be incredibly charismatic public speakers,  as long as they are given ample opportunity to gather their thoughts first.

You are a reflective learner. You are aware that you’re not perfect and are keen to keep improving. You know yourself and can think through multiple scenarios, learning from the past, to shape a better future.

You enjoy writing. You can communicate in ways that extraverts struggle, carefully responding to crises and developing solutions. You excel in this.

You lead through influence. You value the perspective of others, leading quietly with encouragement, advice and inspiration. You take risks, but only after thinking through the possible results.

You are a compassionate leader. You can be approachable and perceptive which draws people to you.

A leader is best when people barely know he exists,
when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say:
we did it ourselves

— Lao Tzu