Christine Wright, senior vice-president of Hays US, explains how shy people can make the most of their attributes to become great leaders.
If you’ve never been a manager or in any kind of leadership position before, stepping up a level can be a daunting prospect – especially if you’re more of an introvert. However, as legendary American football coach Vince Lombardi once said: “Leaders aren’t born, they are made.”
If you lack confidence and have never really seen yourself as a leader, then of course there will be challenges in your new role. But let’s face it, any new role will come with its own challenges anyway, so don’t let this hold you back or limit your career progression.
If you’ve recently been promoted having been a ‘follower’ for years, don’t stress out. Just read on for some tips to help you be the kind of leader you’ve always hoped to be.
1. Give yourself a break
Nobody expects perfection right out of the gate, so stop expecting it from yourself. If you’re too frightened to make any decisions in case you get something wrong, you’ll end up making no decisions at all, and that is no way to run a team or anything else.
Here’s the thing: you, exactly as you are right now, got the job, and that should tell you that the company recognises and values your skills and experience to date. They know that you aren’t magically going to become a superstar leader overnight, they know you’ll need training and help and encouragement along the way. And if they don’t, frankly, that’s a problem with the company, not with you.
Take confidence from the fact that they chose you out of all the applicants they could have picked from. That matters – a lot.
2. Practice makes perfect
Just as with anything else, the more you do this, the better you will get and the more you’ll be able to make better decisions. Start small, if you can. Before you even get the job, start speaking up in meetings more, voice your opinion and let your ideas be heard.
Perhaps also take a voluntary role outside of the company where you can practise your leadership skills without it impacting your career or how people see you at work.
Doing small things to prepare yourself beforehand will increase your confidence before you go for the interview and make you more likely to get the job in the first place and, when you do, you’ll be better placed to go forward in the role.
3. Be yourself
Great leaders are supposed to be confident and authoritative – aren’t they? Well, not always. If you’re more of an introvert or a little shy, yes, you will have to push yourself to speak up more and make your voice heard, because you’ll no longer be able to sit in the corner in meetings and get away without saying anything. But you will get used to it and the more you do it, again, the better you will get.
In any job, though, you’ve got to make it work with what you’ve got – or who you are – and that is what people want to see. If you build a facade, that’s all it will be and people will see through it.
Be authentic and genuine, use the best of your personality to talk to people in a way that makes them feel good, and they’ll also feel good about being managed by you. Just as with business networking, people do business with people they know, like and trust and that goes just as much for their managers.
4. But what if I’m shy?
That’s OK. A lot of people are and there are a lot of benefits that you can bring to the table purely because of that.
If you’ve spent a lot of time sitting in meetings without speaking, you’ve done an awful lot of listening. Shy people are often incredibly good listeners – they often empathise greatly with other people and can find it easier to put themselves in the other position and understand where people are coming from. This is a huge advantage. Those are all incredibly important leadership skills, and you already have them.
You understand more than anyone that people can find it hard to speak up in a large group. You know how it feels to worry about what people think of you, and if you should say what you are thinking. You know what it feels like to have a brain full of ‘what ifs’. What if I make a mistake, what if I say something stupid, what if they laugh?
Who better than you to bring along the more unsure members of your team and make sure they gain confidence and get the chance to be heard?
5. Be prepared
Being as prepared as you can possibly be, whether it’s for a meeting, a staff member assessment or even something incredibly difficult like terminating one of your team, is vitally important.
If you’ve done your homework in advance, you’ll be more confident to take on whatever happens, from whatever you were expecting to happen to even the more unexpected situations that you will sometimes find yourself in.
Have all your paperwork and figures to hand, get yourself a glass of water or a coffee to help you relax and arrive at least five minutes early, not only to create a good example, but also to give yourself a few minutes to orientate yourself, set your papers out and relax.
6. Get to know your team members
You’ll feel more confident and relaxed if you know who you’re dealing with, so get to know your team members. If you don’t feel comfortable meeting them all in a group at first, schedule one-to-ones with them and simply have a relaxed, friendly chat.
Not only will that help you, but it will also ease their minds, too, which is good for the whole team – including you.
Anticipate any questions your team members might ask, so that you can answer them with confidence and authority should they arise.
7. Learn from other leaders
Find a mentor or peer who can support you – someone you feel comfortable with who has been in your shoes before. You’ll have a sounding board for any problems and someone who can help you learn.
Think about your previous managers. What did you like about their management style and what didn’t work for you? Learn from their mistakes and use the best of what they did right to build your own style.
Read widely. There are plenty of management books out there and it’s a great idea to follow leaders you admire and see how they do things.
8. Ask for feedback
If you’re naturally shy, it can be extremely daunting to seek out feedback on your skills. But if you’ve found a mentor you can trust, feedback – good or bad – is incredibly valuable. And the more great feedback you get, the more your confidence will grow!
No matter what job you’re in, approach it with a positive attitude. If you understand that you have great skills and experience to offer, but that you should always be open-minded and ready to learn, then you’ll do just fine.
Christine Wright is senior vice-president of Hays US, responsible for Hays’ growth and expansion in central and west US regions and leading national strategic projects. A version of this article previously appeared on the Hays Viewpoint blog.