Why Introverts Struggle with Leadership [2024]


Why Introverts Struggle with Leadership [2024]

By Hannah Baker


Dear Reader,

I want to revisit the "Why Introverts Struggle with Leadership" newsletter I wrote in 2022. It's been two years, and the insights shared back then are more relevant than ever in 2024. I'll also provide new reflections from our current experiences.

Why is this important now? In 2024, designers face new challenges, including the rise of AI and the threat of layoffs during economic downturns. Facilitative leadership is crucial in navigating these challenges and can help you build career resilience. By leveraging these skills, you can ensure your unique value is recognized and remains indispensable in your role.

Here’s the original article with updates:


I don't know who needs to hear this, but you can become the next design leader without being the loudest in the room. I'll walk you through how I did it.

Spoiler alert: I didn't even have to interrupt anyone.

I don't like being at the center of attention; too many social interactions can drain me. I hate public speaking and have been terrified of it most of my life.

When people see me teaching at the Fountain Institute, they don't believe when I say I hate public speaking. Maybe they see me in front of 100s of people at our workshops and think, "This person is a natural public speaker."

Update: Since then, I've done even more public speaking, including keynote presentations at design conferences. Yet, I still consider myself an introvert who has found a way to make public speaking work for me.

I can do it today because I found a "style" that works for me. I built my "style" around my strengths of asking great questions, using my active listening skills, and checking in on other people. I later realized this "style" is facilitation.

Why introverts struggle with leadership.

People look up to leaders; you become the center of attention at meetings and in the workplace. But if you're an introvert, you avoid being the center of attention and being in large social gatherings.

It's hard to be seen and respected as a leader when you're uncomfortable being the center of attention.

An extrovert is likelier to brag or show off their accomplishments in collaborative work. They will not be afraid to share their ideas and try to push for them.

But pushing your ideas is the opposite of facilitation.

And I think there are more innovative ways to share your ideas than yelling them.

Why facilitating is the answer

When you facilitate, you gain respect and allow your team to see you as a leader. The skills you earn as an introvert become your advantage in facilitation.

As a facilitator of workshops, you care more about generating the best ideas for a problem, not pushing your agenda.

When workshops improve the business, the person who designed and ran them can be seen as someone who can lead a team to results.

As an introvert, I had perfected skills that became necessary for being a great facilitator. The top ones I want to focus on today are:

  • Active listening
  • Asking questions
  • Reading the room

Facilitation skills are introvert skills

Active listening
Active listening is genuinely listening to what someone says and ensuring they feel heard. Introverts are comfortable sitting and listening. We don't interject every thought we have.

Asking questions
Introverts don't always want attention on us, so we tend to ask more questions to get others talking. We are always contemplating and curious. We don't want to talk about ourselves, so we learn how to ask great questions.

Reading the room
We are observers. We pay attention to how people interact, know how much time we take, and leave space for others. This helps us read the room's vibe, keep track of time, and keep others' feelings at the forefront.

The Design Facilitator

When you are a facilitator, it's not about you. It's about creating a space where people feel comfortable sharing their ideas, especially if they are different ideas. You want to build trust with a group, get at the heart of the real problem, and have your group feel heard and trust you.

The next step is combining all this with your incredible design skills and creating space for your team.

After this, your team will leave feeling seen and heard, with actionable steps to drive outcomes. Your bosses will be impressed and do you know who will be responsible for this success?

You!

It's the era of the introvert leader.

Adam Grant found in his research [source] that if you track the performance of extrovert and introvert leaders' teams at their companies, there is no difference in their effectiveness.

But if we look deeper, extrovert leaders thrive with reactive followers and teams looking for direction.

Introvert leaders thrive with proactive employees and teams that bring up new ideas. They lift the best ideas for a solution rather than promote their own.

We no longer live in the industrial age, when the most success came from a waterfall product approach. The future is an innovative, agile workforce that allows the best minds to develop solutions.

It sounds like the introvert is poised to become the next era of leaders.

Why This Matters Now

In 2024, designers face unprecedented challenges due to rapid technological advancements and economic uncertainties. The design industry is evolving quickly, and many designers worry about job security.

Standing out and showcasing unique human skills is crucial in this volatile environment. Facilitative leadership is essential because it emphasizes collaboration, creativity, and the human touch.

By honing these skills, you ensure your organization recognizes your value. Active listening, asking insightful questions, and reading the room are not just leadership skills but survival skills in the modern landscape.

These abilities make you adaptable and indispensable, helping you navigate the uncertainties of today's job market and emerge as a resilient leader.

Furthermore, facilitative leadership is particularly empowering for women designers.

In an industry where women may still face challenges in being heard and recognized, facilitation provides a platform to lead effectively without the need to dominate. It allows women to leverage their strengths in empathy, active listening, and collaboration to create inclusive environments where diverse ideas flourish.

This approach enhances team performance and establishes women as influential leaders who drive meaningful change.

In summary, facilitative leadership equips you with the tools to adapt and thrive, ensuring your contributions are visible and valued in our current climate.

Level up today!

If you want to dive further into building facilitative leadership skills, check out this free 60-minute masterclass with just one click!



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Until next time!

Hannah Baker
Facilitator & Co-Founder
The Fountain Institute

The Fountain Institute

The Fountain Institute is an independent online school that teaches advanced UX & product skills.

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