I made a decision early in my career that leadership was not for me. I was a 20-something graphic designer, and I’d gladly accepted that I was destined to spend my days in a quiet cubicle, getting my work done with as little interaction from others as possible.
In the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator framework, I’m an introvert — specifically, an INFP (Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling, Perceiving) who doesn’t want to tell anyone else what to do or how to do it. How could I be an effective leader?
It only took a few years before I realized two things: First, leadership is about more than bossing other people around. Second, I really like creative freedom. And the easiest way for me to earn that freedom was to move up the ladder, which meant eventually leading a team.
As it turns out, many of the qualities of a great leader are also common among introverts — we’re good listeners, observant, well-prepared (usually) and prefer to think before acting. Fortunately for me, what started as a personal quest for autonomy quickly transformed into a leadership style that not only suited my personality, but also benefited my team members.
Here are a few ways to recognize the strengths of your own personality type and incorporate them into your leadership role.
Are you an ISFJ?
ISFJs (Introverted, Sensing, Feeling, Judging) are thoughtful, observant and detail-oriented leaders. You may have noticed that you have a natural ability for identifying and nurturing the strengths in others, especially your team members. You’re loyal, hardworking and willing to jump in to help on the most tedious of tasks, even those other leaders would delegate out. Your cautious and practical approach to everything also makes you a steady and reliable leader.
How to grow as a leader: Watch for signs of burnout or overcommitment. In an ISFJ, this can show up as resentment toward the very people you’re trying to help. If you suddenly realize you’ve been neglecting your own needs in order to take on everyone else’s burdens, it’s probably time to take a break and recalibrate.
Are you an INFJ?
If you’re an INFJ (Introverted, iNtuitive, Feeling, Judging), you probably already know that you’re a bit of a unicorn. Not only are you one of the rarest types, but your unique blend of intuition, empathy and decisiveness is very well-suited for leading others. People are more likely to follow someone who has a plan and is committed to seeing that plan all the way through to the end. They’re also more likely to follow someone who considers their feelings and perspectives along the way — yet another strength of the elusive INFJ.
How to grow as a leader: INFJs are also known for their perfectionism, which has the capacity to bring a team project to a grinding halt if left unchecked. If you find yourself unable to let a project out the door before you’ve perfected every detail, it would be helpful to have someone more objective nearby (like an INTJ or INTP), who can tell you when you’re overdoing it.
Are you an INTJ?
Strategic and intuitive, you have an uncanny ability to improve just about anything you set your sights on. You can spot inefficiencies and opportunities for growth with little effort, making you the ultimate reformer. You lead others with calm, focused confidence that can inspire others to follow along.
How to grow as a leader: Before you start working with your team to bring your next big-picture strategy to life, take a moment and explain your vision to them. If you’ve ever sensed a lack of motivation or enthusiasm in your team members, you may have forgotten that they weren’t around when you were using all that intuition and brainstorming power to come up with the idea. Sometimes a quick explanation of where they’re going and why can motivate people to share in your excitement.
Are you an ISTJ?
As an ISTJ (Introverted, Sensing, Thinking, Judging), you’re probably the one who keeps things moving and on-task, no matter what. Your discipline and clearly detailed plans of action create a feeling of stability and trust within your team — you’re the one who’s going to make sure they get where they need to go.
How to grow as a leader: ISTJs rely heavily on concrete facts and what they’ve learned from past experience. This can create “tunnel vision,” closing you off to new ideas or possibilities, and making you seem rigid or dismissive. Instead of simply trying to “be more open-minded,” lean into your strength. Start by simply viewing the facts at hand within a larger context. What’s the bigger picture? Before you know it you’ll be waxing philosophical with your INFP neighbor.
Are you an ISTP?
As an ISTP (Introverted, Sensing, Thinking, Perceiving), you’re a natural problem-solver. As a leader, your team members appreciate not being micromanaged, and your adaptability means you probably stay calm in most situations. You prefer projects with practical application, especially if it means building something with your hands (strategy meetings are what nightmares are made of).
How to grow as a leader: ISTPs often struggle with conformity and long-term planning. Although you’d probably prefer to be left alone to work on your projects, planning and guidelines are a part of maturing as a leader. Start small — create a to-do list of your team’s projects, maybe even breaking them down into smaller tasks that can be loosely planned. Then, make a plan for when they need to be completed, and share with your team so everyone’s on the same page. No need to schedule every task down to the minute, but a general framework can go a long way.
Are you an INTP?
As an INTP (Introverted, iNtuitive, Thinking, Perceiving), one of your greatest strengths is your ingenuity — you can find work-arounds and innovative solutions to just about anything. Because you are driven by logic and accuracy, you hold your work, and the work of your team, to a very high standard. You’re great at organizing information into elegant systems, and probably prefer that to organizing people, resulting in a more “hands-off” style of management. You may feel that creating a system for your team to follow is a better use of your time than telling them what to do directly.
How to grow as a leader: Use your love of systems to your advantage. This could be a great opportunity to include the members of your team in creating an efficient way for everyone to work together — one that allows you to focus on the theoretical while your team helps with more of the day-to-day. Just be sure to remind yourself occasionally that your team is made up of individuals, and even the best system can’t replace the need for human interaction once in a while.
Are you an ISFP?
Free-spirited and independent, ISFP (Introverted, Sensing, Feeling, Perceiving) leaders are more likely to be found running their own creative endeavor than leading a team inside an office. In other words, if you’re an ISFP, I’ll bet you’re not reading this from behind a cubicle wall. Regardless of where you lead, your team probably appreciates your thoughtful and sensitive nature. Your adaptability and preference for living in the moment also allows you to change course easily as issues arise.
How to grow as a leader: Leadership almost always requires some long-term planning and decision-making, which can be a challenge for you. Because you likely have strong rapport with your team members, ask for their input and thoughts as you work on the roadmap for future projects. Ultimately, you’ll need to be the one to make the decisions and create the plan, but you don’t have to start from scratch.
Are you an INFP?
INFP (Introverted, iNtuitive, Feeling, Perceiving) leaders often take on the leadership role simply to be afforded more independence — many would rather manage ideas than manage people. You probably dislike hierarchy in general, and take more of a “live and let live” approach to leadership, choosing to act more as a facilitator than a teacher. One of your greatest strengths is your creativity, specifically in idea generation and creative problem-solving.
How to grow as a leader: Sometimes too many ideas can leave you overwhelmed and unable to gain traction on any of them. Create a space for your “later” ideas — a list, a folder on your computer, or a digital board. By giving your free-floating ideas a temporary home, you’ll be able to set them aside and actually get something finished.
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About 70 percent of my team are introverts, and all of them were here when I came on board as a manager. They won’t come together to solve problems. In fact, one of my employees told me, “I like to figure things out on my own.” It’s like each one of them lives on an island, and it’s too hard to take their boat over to collaborate. Any advice?