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Introverts and Influence

Introverts are people who are energised by being alone than by being around people.

They constitute 30-50 % of the population in most sample groups.

Many of them are reflective thinkers. They think before they speak.

They are more comfortable in small groups as it gives them an opportunity to be seen, heard and also speak without being overwhelmed. Not all of them are shy.

Influence is the capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behaviour of someone.

One’s depth of character and authenticity are major components in being influential.

Charisma, a distant cousin to influence, is a compelling attractiveness or charm that can inspire devotion in others in a short span of time. Sometimes its mistaken for the only way to become influential.

Added to this, most of the charismatic leaders appear extroverted (being energised around people).

Hence the word ‘influence’ has got associated with extroversion and charisma.

This has led introverts to feel a bit less confident on their influential capabilities.

Does this mean that half of the world’s population cannot be influential?

If I analyse the top 3 goals most of my clients choose, 'Influence' is always part of the list. And by 'even chance' 50% of my clients are introverts.

The intent of the post is to dispel some myths about introversion and influence and table some small actions that introverts can take to increase their influence.

Dr. Karen Keller wrote a book on being influential - Influence, Whats’s the missing piece?

She states that there is more of “being” than “doing” in becoming influential.

This is an important insight to be noted for al introverts - because all of us can show up inspite of our tendencies. There is no reason to find an excuse. 

Dr. Keller mentions 7 traits of being influential. They are

  1. Confidence

  2. Commitment

  3. Courage

  4. Passion

  5. Empowering

  6. Trustworthiness

  7. Likability.

They are fairly self-explanatory.

I would like to group them this way, for getting a handle on it.

Likability = fn {Passion, empowering, trustworthiness, commitment, courage}
Confidence = fn{Courage, Passion, commitment}

One of the underlying beliefs that stops introverts from being influential is -

“I don’t communicate enough as I take time to think through.
I am uncomfortable in large groups. So unless others make an effort, I am not seen or heard for all that I am. This hampers my career growth.”

When we observe the likability equation above - ‘trustworthiness’, ‘commitment’ and ‘empowering’ are not traits that come by just speaking about them. They come by living them, which is "being" + "doing" and is equally hard/easy for both introverts and extroverts alike. More importantly these three are within the comfort zone of introverts and do not stretch them much.

Now, if you have done the hard-work of earning trust, are committed to your work and empower others, you have covered more than half the ground.

Going back to the equation, we need Passion and Courage to complete the likability part of being influencing.

Passion is a strong desire/emotion towards something you care deeply about. It could be for a cause, for a technology, for teams, for animals, for trees etc.

Leveraging passion is something that introverts can excel if they pay enough attention to. That's something that can give them the impetus to become influential naturally.

We have heard about escape velocity - the minimum velocity required by an object to exit earth’s gravitational pull. If an introvert has to escape his own inhibitions of being around large groups of people, with questions like - whether they are right, what will people think of them etc, passion is the answer.

If you are wondering why - its because its no longer about you. Its about a cause, about your team, about technology about everything else and you are just a small stakeholder in this whole ecosystem. So the inhibitions that are only yours are far less disturbing and don't have the power to hold you back.

Here is an article that talks about greats in the world of politics and business who have leveraged their passion to be influential. Bottomline, its about standing up for what you deeply care about even though it makes you uncomfortable.

Courage, as they say, is not the absence of fear. Its being willing to be/do inspite of it. Leveraging passion yields courage. Courage mixed with passion and commitment leads to confidence.

Voila! We have taken care of all the 7 traits that makes one influential.

If you are an introvert, who has heard enough feedback that you need to start being influential and wondering what's a good place to start, you can pick one thing that resonates with you and experiment with it.

  • Alternate ways of Expression: One way of expressing who we are and what we have to say to the world is ‘speaking’. There are other methods - the simplest being writing. Writing is within the comfort zone of the introvert as its asynchronous, and there is no sword hanging over you to respond. Contribute to your team’s blog, share your expertise on LinkedIn or any medium as a starter.

  • Souvenirs/Memorabilia: The small things that mean much to you - a bat signed by Sachin Tendulkar, a token gift you got for a job well done, a photograph of your unique vacation - display them on your desk or your virtual background. This will prompt people to ask you about it. I took inspiration for this idea from a post on TCS CEO Rajesh Gopinathan. He had a telescope behind him in the background of a virtual townhall. Thousands of TCSers (some of them my dear friends, as I worked there for 14 years) who logged in noticed that. And guess what - the conversation invariably went to the telescope and star gazing:-)

  • Making Creative pursuits useful: Most introverts have a hobby that they spend hours on (remember they have high solo time). It could be photography, making movie scripts, music, sculpturing, painting etc. Volunteering for team building activities/any opportunities that involve any one of these (alone/otherwise) and making oneself useful earns many a friend! 

  • Sharing expertise: Proactively asking if someone could use your expertise outside your team context, helps you build your network organically one team/person at a time. This also serves the purpose of helping someone in need along with our own agenda. Once we do this more, our discomfort in the company of strangers also decreases.

  • Being vulnerable: This is a little stretch from an introvert’s comfort zone. However this has multiple dividends.

Stating what you are not good at in the conversation followed by speaking what you have in mind can make you appear very real. For eg, “I am not great at playing devil’s advocate. But this is what comes up for me when I listen to your idea....”. The brilliance of this method lies in its simplicity and the ability to connect with people. 

What is the one step you can take to increase your influence?

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