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Learning and Development

When asked to describe the learning, development and support that they had received through their careers, introverted leaders were particularly positive about:

  • one-to-one coaching

  • understanding of introversion through Myers Briggs

  • learning from other introverts

  • specific help with presentation skills

  • specific feedback from line managers or peers

Positive experiences of learning and development

Unsurprisingly, introverted leaders particularly valued support they had received on a one-to-one basis, such as from a coach or mentor:

  • “Coaching helped on a number of levels – understanding myself but also unpacking my thinking and raising my profile when I needed to.”

  • “It is important to me to have a mentor and I have enjoyed coaching sessions on a one-to-one basis.”

  • “I am always happy in a one-to-one situation and so have gone for mentoring, approaching expert individuals on an individual basis.”

  • [What helped me was] “Having an introverted leader as a trainer and coach!”


Many introverted leaders commented that the Myers Briggs tool had been helpful to them but this seemed to be dependent on the facilitator:

  • “MBTI has been the single most valuable tool that has allowed me to learn about my own needs and preferences. It has given a name and a meaning to something that didn’t seem quite right when I was growing up: ‘Introversion’ was something that needed fixing and that if I were more extrovert then I would be successful / happy / content etc. I cannot identify any other aspect of my education that has enabled me to understand and accept that introversion is okay.”

  • “Myers Briggs – about the third time round! Particularly an exercise where the facilitator split us into introvert and extrovert groups so we could really understand differences – and see the extrovert colleagues who had tried but failed to understand us in a different group!”


Introverted leaders talked about learning best on their own, using their intuitive reflection, to learn lessons based on their own observations:

  • “I think I learn best from observing people. I’m fairly intuitive and can recognise good and bad behaviour in a leadership setting. I suppose this would count as experiential learning. I also reflect a lot and assess my own performance in situations, particularly new settings. I tend to be quite self critical and rarely seek feedback as a means of moderating my own assessment.”

  • “You have to learn to accept yourself as you are. Training in the formal sense has never helped me much although I enjoy some of it. I have needed to train myself. As my mind constantly replays, reflects and sifts what has happened this is not a burden.”

  • “I attended a leadership development programme which included a week called a ‘deliberative’, this was designed to slow us down and give us strategies for thinking. I found it absolutely invaluable and carry the lessons with me to this day… I often go for a ten to fifteen minute walk on my own at lunchtime, these were called ‘deliberative walks’ on the programme!”


Introverted leaders value talking to other introverts:

  • “It is helpful to have met other introverted leaders and talking to them about how they have coped is very supportive.”

  • “… best resource has been friendship discussions with like minded managers.”

  • “Occasional conversations with other introverts when I have realised I am not alone – and that I am an introvert rather than a dysfunctional human being!!”


Introverted leaders value feedback:

  • “The SHA Leadership Programme was very helpful as it was based on a good understanding of the individual nature of leadership and building your own identity and style.”

  • “Very specific feedback about what needed to be different.”

  • “Three hundred and sixty degree feedback to enable me to be more specific about where others might feel that a higher level of engagement would help me in the performance of a role.”

What doesn't work: less successful development interventions for introverted leaders:


Common dislikes were:

  • examples of good practice which favoured extroverted over introverted styles of leadership

  • training that involved continuous active engagement with groups of other people, especially where the people are unknown to each other

  • residential training where the event continued into the evening with an expectation of socialising.


Extroverted learning:

  • “The CEOs that appear on the conference circuit giving presentations about how wonderful a leader they are – always extroverts! - can be dispiriting. There is clearly a stereotype of what a CEO is expected to be – and it is not an introvert! For this reason I have tended in my career to portray myself as an extrovert, which is something I am clearly not.”

  • “Most training and workplace development simply assumes that people are extroverted so no allowance is made for introversion.”

  • “Numerous corporate training programmes that I have attended over the years tend to assume that assertive equals extrovert equals successful.”


Learning in groups:

  • “I really, really don’t like being sent off in breakout groups at training sessions particularly when you don’t know the people… Almost invariably the groups take forever to focus on the question and discuss anything else but what they are supposed to be discussing…”

  • “I loathe interactive ‘all of the expertise / knowledge is in this room’ type of workshops.”

  • “The traditional classroom full of people approach can be unhelpful as I can either hide away or struggle to speak up in front of so many people. I find the group work on leadership programmes difficult as it tends to suit the extroverts best and they dominate, meaning I withdraw. I perform best when people know me and respect my strengths which you don’t get on short duration courses.”

  • “Formal education really did not address any aspect of my personal development. Events that imitate that model – conferences, formal seminars and so forth are of limited value.”

  • “Seminars at university where large groups engaged in debate were very unhelpful as a vehicle for making considered responses unless the tutor was adept at drawing in opinion.”


Mixing learning with socialising:

  • “Very intense training where the idea is you spend all hours of the day in the company of colleagues.”

  • “The ‘corporate’ in corporate leadership became increasingly a word that implied that everyone would do the same thing in the same way during the eighties. Oddly this happened at a time when people were speaking in increasingly positive ways about diversity, it never added up. For example, there was an expectation that you would stay in the bar talking with your colleagues until all hours as part of a conference / meeting with an overnight stay. It always felt burdensome and those who acted differently were made to feel different.”

  • “Leadership training and team-building training assumes automatically that everyone is outgoing / sociable / extrovert / party loving. Training courses that deliberately go on late into the night because it is good to pressurise participants and press people to socialise and ‘bond’. It actually is just exhausting for introverts and gives no time for absorbing the learning and recharging batteries for the next day.”


More, earlier and better:

Key issues included:

  • understanding the strengths of introversion and that it is ok to be introvert

  • recognising the benefits of mentoring or coaching and its particular attraction to introverted leaders

  • having access to MBTI earlier in careers

  • learning how to manage conflict

  • the importance of specific feedback.


Introversion is OK:

  • “I think I was probably always aware that I was not an extrovert but I think there is a feeling in the workplace generally that extroversion is better! It may have been helpful earlier in my career to feel that introversion was okay and help me work with that as opposed to trying to be something I wasn’t.”

  • “I think the greatest help would have lain in a more inclusive approach to styles of leadership. Diversity is not just about colour, gender, culture and alike; it is about celebrating the differences in all of us. That matters to a white apparently Anglo Saxon male with introverted tendencies who often feels excluded.”

  • “Possibly a group forum on leadership techniques for introverted leaders just to feel there are others with similar ways of working"


Mentoring / Coaching

  • “A lot more one-to-one mentoring.”

  • “Being mentored by another introverted leader would have been good. Earlier on in my career it would have been useful to have mentoring sessions with a CEO who was an introvert and who had found successful ways of accommodating this preference and being a successful CEO.”

  • “Perhaps if I had been mentored by a like-minded person at an earlier stage in my career I would have achieved more earlier?”

  • “Coaching for me is key.”

  • “I think talking to other introverts would be helpful. How about introverts anonymous?”

Understanding introversion and extroversion earlier:

  • “Much earlier understanding of the energy issue – perhaps through more specific follow up from the Myers Briggs team days we did.”

  • “If only MBTI was used and understood much earlier in life. Since understanding it myself I’ve replayed incidents from the last forty years over in my head and have only now understood why I felt like I have done. Since I have realised why I am like I am I have suddenly opened my eyes and noticed many more introverts around me!”

  • “It would have helped to do Myers Briggs earlier – maybe as a medical student.”

Managing conflict:

  • “Greater emphasis on strategies for managing potential conflicts between personal preferences and role/job demands.”

  • “I wish I had learnt to deal with conflict better during my childhood. As an only child I spent a lot of time avoiding playground disputes when it would have been better to have learnt how to resolve them.”

  • “A specific focus on how to be effective amongst a cohort of extroverts who seem to run away with themselves and then wonder why things are not going well."

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