Make way for the introverts

Make way for the introverts

I’m an introvert – and a very proud one at that – who has spent her entire career in the world of business and leadership.

Even my studies were focused on business. I have a bachelor’s degree in business from Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, and an MBA from Northwestern’s Kellogg Graduate School of Management.

Yet, I can’t recall a single time in all of my business studies when we ever discussed how to understand and then leverage personal strengths to be successful in the world of business and leadership. I can only imagine how much more fulfilling the early years of my career would have been if I had such insights to work from!

The event that changed everything

When I started my career I didn’t know what an introvert was, and I certainly didn’t know I had introverted strengths I should be capitalising on. But there was a pivotal moment when I realised I could not let my preference of being in small groups with one to two other people get in the way of my career fulfillment and advancement.

It was at a retirement party for one of the top executives in my $10 billion company. I was a very young employee and somewhat fearful as I envisioned walking by myself into a room full of people I didn’t know and who, I anticipated, would probably have little interest in talking to me. I came very close to not attending the party, and it would not have been the first time I’d made such a decision.

Instead, I put my fears aside (here’s how) and went. What I discovered upon arrival was a relatively empty room, save for the friends and close colleagues of this top executive because so many others had let similar fears stand in their way. That night I had the distinct pleasure and advantage of being able to have one-on-one conversations with some of the company’s top executives; an experience that would prove fruitful during the crucially important following years of my career.

Career-altering lessons learned

So, although we didn’t talk about whether we were introverts or extroverts and what this might mean while I was in school, I did learn about it in the real world. I learned two critical lessons at that retirement party that would stick with me and become part of the foundation of my approach to success:

Avoid avoidance: I was going to have to get out of my comfort zone (my preference to be with just one or two other people) periodically in order to open doors and create important business relationships.

One-on-one conversations would be my lifeline: But I also learned that even if I was in a room full of people, if I focused on talking with people one-on-one, I could still be comfortable while effectively creating and nurturing business relationships. This was the beginning of my real-life schooling on how to better understand my own introverted preferences, embrace them, be true to myself, and be effective and successful as well.

The journey

I know it is partly due to leveraging my introverted strengths that I went on to hold responsibility for a $750 million business just 10 years after being hired out of undergraduate school. Mid-way through my career I spent a year as an executive leadership trainer and during this time I came to better understand the important differences between being an introvert and an extrovert. I became attuned to those differences when I went back to leading businesses.

I first wrote about some of the principles I now follow in a blog post entitled The introvert’s guide to attending a conference. I was stunned by the response. It was overwhelming. Not only did I receive more than 100 heartfelt comments on the blog post; I had readers emailing me and sharing how their introversion was getting in the way of both their career advancement and their happiness.

Importantly, I also heard from a number of extroverts who genuinely appreciated having a better understanding of their introverted colleagues and team members.

I was inspired by my blog readers to write a series of similar blog posts that has now been turned into an eBook. The eBook, The Introvert’s Guide to Success in Business and Leadership ( was written with the sincere hope that introverts around the world would give themselves permission to be more successful than they thought possible.

It goes much more deeply into the inner strengths we introverts share, and how to leverage them – specifically, and in an actionable way – to be abundantly successful in business and leadership.

Most importantly, I want introverts who read the eBook to understand how important it is for them to embrace their introversion rather than trying to “get over it”.

You see, being an introvert is truly an advantage in business and leadership IF you know how to leverage your inner strengths, and IF you remain true to yourself.

Leadership expert Lisa Petrilli is the CEO of C-Level Strategies Inc, chief operating officer for the To Be a Woman global platform, and chief relationship officer for CEO Connection. You can follow Lisa on Twitter @LisaPetrilli


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