But you don’t look like an introvert!

by | Apr 24, 2024

Last week, a local newspaper ran a story about me with the headline, “Introvert coach helping professionals embrace innate talents.” The writer shared my journey discovering my own introverted strengths, how I’m helping other introverts to use their gifts to become more powerful leaders, and volunteer work I do in my community.

So, first things first. As a coach hoping to reach more people, I was thrilled that my message that introverts can be powerful leaders was getting more airtime. But as an introvert, having the spotlight on myself made me want to run and hide under the covers. (More on that in next week’s blog post.)

Then a funny thing happened. I was out and about, seeing people I knew at the grocery store, at synagogue, and at a friend’s birthday dinner. Many came over to say they had read the article. Most had no idea that I am a leadership coach for introverts. And every single one of them said some version of, “I never would have guessed you are an introvert!” 

The Culture of Concealment: Why Do We Hide Our Introversion?

All of this got me thinking – was I a “closet introvert”? How could so many people who have known me in different settings and roles (mom, volunteer, committee leader, neighbor, casual friend) not realize that this is who I am?

I think this sentiment speaks volumes about the misconceptions surrounding introversion and the ways in which we navigate our social and professional lives. Reflecting on this reaction, I began to unravel the reasons behind why many people—especially those who know me casually—didn’t realize I am an introvert. What does it mean to “look” like an introvert, and why is it that so many of us hide our introverted nature in plain sight?

Fundamentally, I think these questions speak to the cultural bias toward extraversion and many misconceptions that people have about introverts. For example:

  1. The Pressure to Perform: From an early age, we introverts are bombarded with messages that suggest we need to be more outgoing, more assertive, and more sociable to succeed. We learn to adapt to social norms and expectations, fearing that our introverted nature will be seen as a weakness rather than a strength. 
  1. The Fear of Judgment: We introverts often worry about how we will be perceived by others if we reveal our true selves. Will we be seen as shy, anti-social, or lacking in leadership abilities? These fears of judgment can lead us to conceal our introverted nature, opting instead to try to blend in with the crowd (often in ways that end up draining our introverted energy).
  1. The Mask of Success: In a culture that equates extraversion with success and leadership, we may feel pressure to adopt extraverted behaviors in order to advance in our careers or achieve professional goals. We learn to play the part of the confident, outgoing leader, even if it doesn’t come naturally to us. (And when we try pretending to be something we’re not, it typically DOES NOT GO WELL.) Read more about embracing your authentic leadership style.

Why People Might Not Recognize Your Introversion

Here are some reasons I think that others have “missed” my introversion and why they might be missing yours:

  • The Myth of Outward Appearance: Introversion isn’t something that’s readily apparent at first glance. Unlike physical attributes, such as height or hair color, introversion is an innate preference for solitude and reflection. It’s a part of who we are, but it’s not something that can be seen with the naked eye.
  • The Extraverted Ideal: In a world that celebrates extraverted traits, introverts often feel pressure to conform to the extraverted ideal. We learn to adapt our behavior to fit in with social or professional expectations, sometimes at the expense of our true selves.
  • The Mask of Adaptation: Many introverts, myself included, have become adept at wearing a social mask—a facade of extraversion that we put on in certain situations. Whether it’s networking events, team meetings, or public speaking engagements, we learn to “act” extraverted when necessary, concealing our introverted tendencies beneath a veneer of confidence and sociability.

I chair committees, I present to large groups, I speak up readily in meetings. Most people don’t associate these behaviors with introversion. But the fact is, introverts can do these things just as well as extraverts.

Breaking the Silence: Embracing Authenticity in Introverted Leadership

So, where do we go from here? As someone who helps introverts embrace their authentic selves and thrive as leaders, I believe it’s time to unmask the hidden strengths of introverted leadership. Here are a few ways we all can begin to do so:

    1. Embrace Your Introverted Nature: Instead of hiding or downplaying your introverted tendencies, embrace them as a source of strength and authenticity. Recognize the unique qualities that make you who you are, and let them shine through in your leadership style. 
    1. Challenge the Stereotypes: Educate others on the true nature of introversion and the strengths that introverts bring to the table. Challenge stereotypes and misconceptions whenever you can, advocating for a more inclusive and diverse understanding of leadership. 
    1. Lead by Example: Demonstrate the power of introverted leadership by leading with authenticity, empathy, and integrity. Show others that introverts can be just as effective—and often more so—as extraverts in leadership roles. 
    1. Create Space for Authenticity: When possible, create environments where introverts feel safe to be themselves and where their unique strengths are valued and celebrated. Foster a culture of inclusion and authenticity, where everyone feels empowered to contribute their best work.

    Embrace the Power of Introverted Leadership

    In the end, being mistaken for an extravert is not a reflection of who I am, but rather a symptom of the cultural bias towards extraversion. As introverts, we have the power to redefine success and leadership on our own terms. By embracing our authentic selves, challenging stereotypes, and leveraging our unique strengths, we can create a world where introverted leaders are celebrated and valued for who they truly are.

    So, the next time someone says, “I never knew you were an introvert,” I’ll smile and say, “That’s because introverts come in all shapes and sizes, and we’re more powerful than you think.”

    To learn more about resources that can support introverted professionals to get the recognition they deserve and triumph at work, click here.