How to Manage Introverts

Mitch writes:

The Manager’s Dilemma – How to Get Good Work From an Introvert

I have a fair amount of perspective on this, having worked in management and being an introvert myself – to the extent that I’ve been told I fall on the edge of the autism spectrum.

I don’t claim to speak for all introverts, and I certainly don’t represent managers in any capacity, but I can share a few observation I’ve made over the years that may just help one or two frustrated managers get the kind of work they need from employees they might consider ‘difficult’.

Most introverts are neither followers nor leaders. They don’t want the burden of being responsible for others, and they don’t care to be nagged, cajoled or goaded into their work. Don’t try and make introverts into ‘team players’. They might play on a team happily, but they will only ever play their position.

Certain classes of introverts find their own motivation – everything they do they do for their own reasons, and they see attempts to ‘motivate’ them as manipulative and intrusive. This is why so many otherwise highly productive introverts get labelled as ‘difficult’ by managers. They resent and, quite naturally for them, resist what they see as an invasive, unnecessary and supremely ineffective burden being placed on them.

Now, on a lower management level, that doesn’t leave much. You can’t motivate them, you can’t ‘lead’ them – so what can you do? You can aim and facilitate them. Level with them, and explain exactly what you need from them, in terms of actual deliverables.

Don’t give them a goal and challenge them to stretch it, tell them what you expect from them in the end, and how long they have to work up to it. Give them everything they need to understand what part they’ll play in the machine that is your particular business or office, explain what resources they have to work with, and leave them to it. By all means let them know if they aren’t producing enough or well enough, but resist the urge to try and get that last extra 5% out of them. They’ll resent it.

Lastly, your goal is not to be seen as ‘the enemy’. Once an introvert sees you as a problem rather than a resource, the working relationship is probably doomed. If you can’t heal the breach, you’ll have to get rid of them. If they didn’t have the capacity for excellent work, you wouldn’t still be keeping them around. Give them what they need to do it, then buzz off.

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