In short, you don’t “overcome being an introvert,” but you can bring your strengths and overcome some challenges unique to introversion.
The introvert’s advantage
Introverts tend to be able to concentrate on one thing for a long time, and so preparation is a key tool for an introvert to be effective. This goes even for situations in which extroverts seem to thrive, such as business development. Preparation, along with experience in social situations, is perhaps the best way for an introvert to thrive in leadership positions.
The introvert’s challenge
Introverts tend toward shyness, which can limit effectiveness in situations that require interactions with other people. It is absolutely essential to overcome shyness to become an effective leader, whether that leadership is formal (such as a role as a manager) or informal.
The introvert’s two keys to becoming a leader
Leadership encompasses many dimensions, certainly, but the two that stand out most for introverts is overcoming shyness (developing social skills) and preparing and structuring situations, especially social situations, for success. As an example, here is how I do a presentation in front of an audience of strangers:
- Find out as much as I can about the audience so that I can present something of value.
- Write and revise.
- Ask questions to someone I trust. Even better, if I know someone well who knows the audience, I will use them as a sounding board. This is especially helpful to take out material that is not useful and to change the wording for maximum understanding.
- Rehearse in front of a mirror or simply out loud.
- Rehearse in front of other people I know well.
- The night before the presentation, spend some quiet time with a book, meditation, or other solitary activity.
- Wake up early the next morning.
- Exercise moderately and eat a good breakfast.
- Arrive early at the presentation site.
- Speak with members of the audience beforehand, if possible. Use eye contact, small talk, business cards, and other techniques to meet people.
- If appropriate, I might ask them questions about the topic.
- Deliver the talk. Sometimes I will gear the talk to what I discussed with the audience beforehand, or even relate it to other speakers’ material. (I can do this because I’ve given many talks now.)
- If there is a forum, follow up with more personal conversations.
- Go back to doing a solitary activity, such as a computer game.
The extensive preparation in steps 1-10 is designed not only to help me deliver a quality presentation, but also gather my energy for the socializing that is essential to success. Obviously, speaking with the audience beforehand can only occur under some circumstances, but I do it when I can. I can base my talk on material I learn the day of the presentation because of the extensive preparation in learning and organizing the material, but you should only do this when you are experienced at presenting. After the talk, I usually find it valuable to follow up with more in-depth personal conversations (an introverted activity!). Finally, after the event is fully over, I’m exhausted from the large amount of mental energy used, and I just want to spend some time to myself.
If you are just starting out on this path, you might lay out some steps for common interactions, such as asking a coworker a question or interacting with your boss. Use the strengths of preparation, and consciously employ good communication skills to overcome shyness. Start small with interactions with coworkers and build up.