It's widely accepted that you must have an extroverted personality to be a good project manager. However, as an introvert and project manager (Scrum Master), I argue this notion is outright wrong.
First things first, let's align ourselves with an acceptable definition of what an introvert is. Merriam-Webster defines this as,
… a person whose personality is characterized by introversion : a typically reserved or quiet person who tends to be introspective and enjoys spending time alone…
To be introverted is not to be a loner or shy. As someone who fits this definition to a tee, I'd like to expand on it and share what it means to be an introverted leader.
Broaden your understanding
Taken at face value, one who's reserved or quiet is often automatically categorized as shy or withdrawn. What's not well understood is that both these attributes, better stated as calm and silent, are more aligned with being a thinker. And just because someone is a thinker doesn't mean they're shy.
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I've been accused of being the quiet one in a filled conference room, even as the most senior person or the head of a board. But don't get me wrong, the table is wholly flipped when it comes to leading meetings or idea sessions (more on that in a moment).
During meetings or large-group conversations, the introvert is usually noticed. If you've seen them, note that they're taking it all in. I liken this situation to the adage, "if you've nothing nice to say, say nothing at all." Worry not, I'm not judging (well, maybe a little); I'm just a contemplative person who wants all the facts and information before I say anything. I want people to think of me as someone who has something to say, as opposed to one who just "says something."
Leading as an Introvert
I've been known to refer to myself as a closet introvert. That is, while in some situations, I'll easily be the most outgoing person willing to talk to anyone. But, when it's all said and done, you'll find me sitting on a comfy chair reading or keeping to myself (probably listening to music).
And when it comes to my profession as a project or program leader, I'm all in. I genuinely enjoy coaching people on scrum teams or helping the team(s) reach their full potential and the end goal of finishing that thing. It’s what I’ve been doing my entire professional career. It’s great!
Most professional project managers I've worked with, mentored, or was mentored by become personally invested in the projects and their teams¹. Throughout my career, first within the Army and Coast Guard, then the Boeing Co., and in my current position, I recall only one project I couldn't invest in (it was an ethical thing). It's this kind of drive that makes an introvert a decent leader. Don't get me wrong, I'm far from a fail-proof manager, but I am passionate about my teams and their investment of time into the work to reach the end goal.
My take on how the introspective leader works is this (it's what I do every day): before planned meetings, you'll find them working out a schedule and the goals of the meeting(s). Using their plan, you'll find it hard to identify them as shy (because they're not). Between meetings or calls, they'll work to determine what's next or work on plans, schedules, budgets, or stakeholder documents. Their brain doesn't often wander far from their projects, even during their time off.
Sometimes, it's hard to convince people that you don't have to be the extroverted type to be a leader. So, I offer this as a counter to those who think otherwise.
- Barack Obama,
- Warren Buffet,
- Marissa Mayer,
- Bill Gates,
- Rosa Parks,
- Albert Einstein, and
- Steve Wozniak (I'd argue Steve Jobs was too)
These are a handful of introverts who've become leaders¹ in their space. They were (some still are) known to be very conscious of their actions and took their time to ensure they were going in the right direction.
I'm not writing this to advocate for introverts to escape their shell. My point is that just because someone in the office (or on the call) doesn't strike you as super-engaging doesn't mean they've nothing to say. It may be a matter of them not having anything extra to add to the conversation. Let their work speak for itself, not their voice.
¹Not all are equal. Some are just there for the paycheck or have been designated the PM without wanting to be the PM. These can be somewhat hard to work with at times, especially if they don't want to be doing that job.