I’m a leader, a HR professional and an introvert!

It is certainly the season to be social. With nine Christmas functions attended and four to go, this little introvert is beginning to run out of steam.

I had lunch with a friend last week. She was lamenting the fact that she had been overlooked to lead a key project for the second time, she felt because she wasn’t as ‘bubbly and out there’ as her colleagues. It reminded me of all the times I’ve found the workplace to be more geared towards extroverts. Do we still live in a world where the loudest are seen as the brightest and most capable?

As a HR professional, it is assumed that I am a ‘people’ person. For many people this translates into being outgoing. I do have a genuine interest in people, just not on a large scale and not all at once. At times in my career I have felt the pressure to be more extroverted, but I usually end up exhausted and burnt out. I have worked hard to find my own voice and to make sure my work is recognised, on my way up the career ladder to the executive level. I figured if Bill Gates and Warren Buffet (self-declared introverts) can find their place in the business world, so could I.

Just for the record, being an introvert doesn’t mean that someone is shy. Beth Buelow, owner of The Introvert Entrepreneur, explains the difference between introverts and extroverts is how they gain or drain energy. Extroverts gain energy around people, introverts from when they are alone, and most of us have qualities of both.

For me the other main difference is extroverts have the capacity to think while they are speaking. My natural preference is to formulate my ideas in my mind before speaking. In this fast-paced world, we don’t always have that luxury. Problem solving becomes an ever-increasing component of your role, the more senior you get. I’ve had to develop the skills of thinking on my feet, which often involves asking questions to get a clearer picture (and sometimes to buy time) and to hone my abstract reasoning skills. When it isn’t time sensitive, I ask them to leave it with me.

Some people can find introverts hard to get to know, even standoffish. We are often quite private and we are not very good at small talk. To make sure people knew that I was engaged and interested in them, I started being upfront about who I am. When I applied for my last executive role, I knew that psychometric testing would be part of the second recruitment phase. I also knew my test results would yell loudly from the page ‘she is an introvert!!’. So, I got on the front foot and declared my ‘introvertedness’ as part of the initial interview. I gave examples of how I’ve made it work in my favour and when I’ve pushed myself outside my comfort zone to achieve a result. They later told me it was one of the responses that really resonated with them and I got the job. As a side note: panel interviews are not conducive to getting the best out of introverted candidates. Weaving phone-screening and one-on-one initial interviews into the process has proven successful for our business.

I’ve embraced the fact that I build relationships on a one-on-one basis through careful listening. It builds trust, people know that I’ll keep their counsel and that leads to my ability to influence. Having worked for organisations with 800+ employees, this approach can be a lot of work. You know the effort is worth it when you can successfully implement change, by leaning on those relationships. Whilst at times I’d like to be that inspiring leader, who grabs the stage and gives a compelling off-the-cuff call to arms, I now know that isn’t me and I’m ok with that.

Meetings, meetings, meetings. An introvert’s nightmare, but a business necessity. Participating in meetings, particularly those with larger groups, takes some navigating to make sure your voice is heard. For meetings with an agenda, I always have notes or questions written in the margins before it starts. Sometimes at the end of the meeting I’ll circle back to an issue, once I’d had time to collect my thoughts, but often I’ll follow up the relevant individuals after the meeting.

As much as I sometimes would have loved to hide in the cocoon of my office with the door closed and blinds closed, I purposely kept my door open. I was conscious of making everyone feel welcome, not an interruption. Now I work in an open plan space, but I know I can retreat to the meeting room when I need to concentrate.

One of the other benefits of hiring an introvert is that because we are not very comfortable at small talk, we hardly ever seem to get caught up in the workplace gossip. Bonus!

I am now more conscious of my need for quiet time to balance out the demands of my work life. I go for a walk every lunchtime, rain, hail, or shine (and where I live we can have all of those in one day). I use this time to clear my head and often think of creative solutions to problems. After work I make sure I carve out some ‘me time’.

We need both introverts and extroverts in the workplace. You might just need to dig a little deeper to see that introverts can make great leaders too. Sometimes it’s worth looking at what’s underneath, we might surprise you.

Come Boxing Day, you’ll find me on the couch with a new book. Enjoy your festive season.



Claire Huntington has over 15 years’ experience in senior and executive level human resource management and strategic leadership positions. Claire learnt HR under the wings of great mentors and through trial and error. She has a very practical hands-on approach to HR and management, and isn’t afraid to look outside the box. Claire is also mum to three primary-school aged firecrackers and is an avid photographer in her spare time.


Disclaimer: The material contained in this publication is of a general nature only. It is not, nor is intended to be, legal advice. If you wish to act based on the content of this publication, we recommend that you seek professional advice.

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