How introverts in tech startups can help build strength

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Given that up to 50% of any population identify as introverts, organisations with an unbiased recruitment process will have a fair proportion of introverts in their workforce. If their promotion panels are fair and equitable, some will reach positions of leadership. However, many introverts spend much of their working life pretending to be more extraverted in order to fit in and be accepted. This comes with a heavy price tag; overwhelm and burn-out. Introverts need strong, well-defended boundaries and a personal strategy for replenishing.

Walk around any tech company and you’ll find more than a few introverts and yet this aspect of neurodiversity is still much misunderstood.

Myth busting

There is a common misconception that Introverts are shy, depressed, tongue-tied loners and whilst they may be quieter than others, there’s a very good reason for it. Introverts are over-stimulated mentally, so being quiet is necessary for their productivity, creativity and mental health. When an Introvert is exposed to a particularly loud or busy environment, especially, for long periods, they can feel their batteries drain like a smart phone in need of an upgrade!

No wonder that introverts often choose to opt-out of the traditional employment scene and strike out on their own. Some of the biggest tech giants were founded or led by highly successful introverts; Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Marissa Mayer, Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Wozniacki and Larry Page to name but a few. 

In order for an introvert to adequately recharge their mental batteries, they need to take themselves ‘out of circulation’ regularly for a top-up. Moments of calm, a walk around the block, listening to their preferred music, reading or gaming all work really well. Our less formal workplaces not only make this possible but actively encourage it now.

Businesses that have agile working and/or a normal working from home policy will find that the introverts are most likely to jump at the opportunity providing their household is introvert friendly. Lock-down has been tangibly different as we’ve been confined to home trying to work when surrounded by a family expecting home-schooling and partners sharing crucial bandwidth. Still, it’s more likely to be the introverts who’ve been enjoying the lock-down and in no particular hurry to rush-back to the old working arrangements. Both Google and Facebook have declared their intention to extend their working from home policy, at least until the end of the 2020, whilst Twitter have said their staff who are able to, can work from home forever if they wish. 

Managing the Introverts

In order for anyone maximise their potential, it’s important to help them play to their strengths. But what are the strengths of an introvert? Typically, they include:

listening, observing, assimilating, problem solving (and the more challenging the problem, the better), meaningful conversation, thought-through creativity, calmness, good at defusing drama, well-prepared, self-motivated, resourceful and focused.   

There are obviously some generic strengths here, because remember introversion is about where people get their mental energy from and what drains those mental batteries. One noticeable difference is preferring the written to the spoken word so they have time to process. This can even extend to taking and making phone calls for some introverts.  

They often only contribute when they have something of value to add, but because their communication process tends to be ‘think-say-think’, they don’t always get to the ‘say’ part of their process. As a manager or meeting leader, your responsibility is to give everyone the opportunity to contribute and not allowing the most vocal to dominate. After all, the quietest voices often make the most significant contribution, the one that stops us in our tracks. 

Don’t expect introverts to be front of the queue for traditional ‘team-building’ exercises either, as these play to the needs of the extraverts; something to remember when you plan the transition back to work. And, introverts find small-talk pointless, painful, and a waste of time. Many will recall being considered stuck-up or arrogant because of this.   

Preparation is an important part of their process so, where possible, don’t spring a meeting on them or ask them to make an immediate decision.  And, if you want an introvert to do their best work, don’t schedule back-to-back meetings, in person or virtual, as they’ll need processing and recharging time in between. 

As introverts are unlikely to push themselves forward and shout about their achievements, make sure you don’t overlook them for promotion or special projects. Think about which opportunities really enable them to play to their strengths.    

“Be nice to nerds, chances are you’ll end up working for one.” Bill Gates once said.

Remember though, there are different types of introverts, so don’t treat them all the same, find out what makes them tick. 

The Introverted Leader

From a leadership perspective, Introverts tend to lead from within, rather than striding out in front. There is a calmness, humility and powerful presence about an introverted leader. Don’t underestimate the quiet leader.

“My job as a leader is to make sure everybody in the company has great opportunities, and that they feel they're having a meaningful impact and are contributing to the good of society." said Larry Page.

The great introverted leaders provide clear vision and then empower their followers to bring that vision to life. Few of them are the Great Man or Charismatic type of leader, but they are powerful nonetheless.  Introverted leaders understand and value thinking as an important business skill and create space for it. And if you’re leading a start-up, recruit a balanced, proactive team and teach them how to understand and value the diversity of the team. 

Imagine how it feels to be trusted to get on with your job, really listened to, empowered to make decisions, given responsibility and held accountable calmly and respectfully. Let’s hear it for the introverted leader!

In conclusion

Introverts bring a much-needed calming presence to a work team.  Some can find the pressure of being expected to be something they’re not intolerable.  Introverts are not in need of bringing out of themselves or fixing; they are not broken.  Learn what makes them tick, help them play to their strengths and encourage them to expand their comfort zones.

Then you’ll have a business that people want to work for and that outperforms others.