Find parties a bore? Don’t care for crowds? Hate making small talk? Rather be home reading a book or binging watching the latest season of “Stranger Things”?

You’re not alone.

Marissa Mayer doesn’t much care for crowds or parties too. That’s because she’s shy. An introvert, she admits, and a proud one at that.

“I didn’t set out to be at the top of technology companies. I’m just geeky and shy and I like to code”

-Marissa Mayer, Co-founder of Lumi Labs and former Yahoo CEO

That didn’t stop her from becoming a successful Silicon Valley leader. First, as Google’s first female engineer overseeing products like Google Adwords. Then as Yahoo’s CEO in 2012.  Her tenure was fraught with criticism. Mayer took flak from journalists and pundits on every executive decision she made. On the other side of the coin, others felt she was unfairly judged by the patriarchal press and held to higher standards unlike her male contemporaries.

Mayer is long past her polarizing Yahoo days and running her own startup, Lumi Labs.

Yep, introvert leaders can succeed despite the perpetual myth they can’t. One that can keep introverts at the bottom of the promotions list. Shyness and speaking softly is wrongly mistaken as a lack of confidence, rather than a demonstration of empathy or interpersonal communication.

Introverts are advised to completely emulate extrovert aspects to make it. Wrong. Introverts can be introverts and still lead effectively.

Let’s take a look at how an introvert like Mayer does it.

Understand Your Introvert Strengths

Understanding yourself and what you bring to the table as an introvert is crucial to your success as a leader. As an introvert, Mayer has gotten to know herself pretty well.

For example, Mayer tells a story of how she overcomes her instinct to bolt at parties.

“I will literally look at my watch and say, ‘you can’t leave until time X, and if you’re having a terrible time at time X, then you can leave’.”

While Mayer is diving into a situation she’s not really prepared for, she also knows how much stimulation she can handle. She’s perfected the skill of intrapersonal communication.

Marissa Mayer, self-professed introvert leader, with her latest team at LumiLabs. (Photo: LumiLabs)
Marissa Mayer, self-professed introvert leader, with her latest team at LumiLabs. (Photo: LumiLabs)

Introvert leaders are keenly in tune with themselves, like Mayer. And that introspection can be a leadership asset:

  • As an introvert, you probably listen more than you speak, which makes you more likely to weigh the pros and cons before taking decisive action. This makes you extremely valuable in pressure cooker situations. Introverts are less likely to make snap decisions, relying more on analytical thinking.
  • You carefully consider words before communicating them to your peers, which eliminated ambiguity on projects or tasks. These types of interactions can also help form more genuine bonds amongst introverts and their team.
  • You learn through observation, always looking for ways to improve. This growth mindset is a valuable leadership skill, where you can learn from your mistakes.

Be the Introvert Leader You Want to Be

Mayer has 10 rules for success, which leverages her introversion but also allows her to grow and put herself out there.

Introvert Leader Marissa Mayer on her philosophy of success. (Credit: YouTube) 

Now she doesn’t force herself into pretending to be an extrovert. Instead she finds ways of integrating perceived extrovert traits and making them work for her. Let’s breakdown a few key lessons from Mayer’s 10 rules for success.

  • Finding your rhythm. Mayer talks about not building resentment for your work so you don’t flame out. One way to do that is finding a rhythm to your work. Another way to think about this is knowing your limits. Like Mayer’s party example, you have to know how much stimulation and how much socialization you can take. Find your rhythm for that. Know when you have to retreat and recharge.
  • Do something you’re not ready to do. One way to learn more about yourself is to try something outside your comfort zone. Maybe it’s having that difficult conversation with a peer. Advocating for yourself with a manager. Or selling an idea during a meeting. But by doing things that make you uncomfortable, you’ll learn more about your limits. You’ll also gain confidence to break through those limits.
  • Work in small teams. As an introvert, you probably prefer one-to-one interactions. So it’s best to work in or lead small teams. This will further help you find your rhythm with your team and create a stronger bond as you work toward a common goal.
  • Surround yourself with smart people. You don’t have to have all the answers. You don’t have to be the smartest one in the room. Surround yourself with smart people are your team. Others who can fill in any gaps you might have. People who you can seek their advice and feedback. You’ll be a better leader for it.

How to Succeed As an Introvert Leader Through Feedback

Feedback was a critical key to Mayer’s success as a leader. She credits seeking out feedback and conscious planning for her meteoric rise.

“I got every single one of [my promotions] by asking and getting feedback and planning for it.”

She advises if you know you’ve outgrown your current position or have more to offer in a leadership role then ask for a promotion. Don’t sit ideally by and let others decide for you. However, don’t badger your manager about it. Seek feedback and advice instead even if the feedback isn’t what you want to hear. But don’t limit it to your manager. Ask your peers as well. You might find they have better insights into your strengths, as well as opportunities for you to grow.

As an introvert, you probably don’t like public accolades of your good work. You’ll feel embarrassed and put on the spot. And processing feedback during a one-on-one can be overwhelming.

In that case, it might be best to ping your peers, either through email or products like Matter (shameless plug). This will allow you to sit with the feedback in written form, giving you time to process it on your own terms.

Then, you can better plan consciously for your next promotion or opportunity.


Matter: The Future of Feedback

Matter helps professionals become the best version of themselves. We believe everyone can achieve mastery, learn, grow, and be respected by their peers. People perform better when they receive monthly peer feedback (proven by science too!).

Matter makes 360-degree feedback easier, pleasant, and more productive. Grow over professional and soft skills like analytical thinking, communication, empathy, and leadership. Level up and take charge of your career with Matter.

Cover Photo Credit: Britannica