Leadership tips for introverts

Revelations from my first coaching session

Last month I had my first coaching session with Geoff Watts, author of Scrum Mastery and The Coach’s Casebook. Geoff was offering free one-hour taster coaching sessions via Twitter and I replied and was fortunate to get given a slot.

The session was on Skype and I came prepared with a particular area I wanted to discuss. I chose to discuss visual communication, as considering our office that has more whiteboards than wall space, I sometimes struggle to visually communicate my ideas during meetings.

When I started to talk to Geoff about why I selected this topic, it became apparent that this issue was a symptom of not feeling confident with my leadership style.

I’m fortunate to work alongside a lot of bright people, many of whom would identify themselves as extroverts, they command people’s attention and enjoy the limelight.

Whereas, I feel much more comfortable sharing ideas in small groups but find it difficult to find my ‘voice’ and the authority to use it in larger meetings. Up until now, I have been putting internal pressure on myself to emulate the characteristics of those around me rather than working to define my own style.

Geoff asked “what do you think is going to work better. Trying things your own way or trying to not be you?”. I had associated “success” with characteristics that didn’t match my own whereas I was never going to be successful, trying to be someone else, I need to embrace who I am and bring my whole self to the table.

Geoff then went on to explain the two main leadership styles, the first being the “sage on the stage”, the second being “the guide from the side” and suggesting perhaps I was the latter.

There are actually many more leadership styles as you can see from the image below. I probably sit somewhere between affiliative and democratic but found the the “guide from the side” analogy useful.

We then explored what things i could do to ensure these meetings were a success whilst remaining true to myself

My colleagues appear comfortable with thinking on their feet and naturally command attention. I wrongly presumed they didn’t prep or practice for these meetings, they just had it.

Of course, that’s not true, my colleagues do prepare for big client meetings but they’ve also got a lot more experience than me and therefore the same level of prep might not be required.

Geoff spoke about using my logical and analytical strengths to my advantage, viewing my individual characteristics and how you like to approach work as strengths rather than constraints.

He suggested using my skills to collate a set of templates to form a toolkit which I can use in these sessions as an aid. A colleague showed a great example of this by pre-printing user story cards in the user story format ahead of a user story mapping session — if the template is good, they’ll help do some of the talking for you.

It became apparent through the session that I had been unconsciously placing a lot of unnecessary pressure and responsibility on myself. I felt it was my responsibility to have the answers.

He reminded me that it was my responsibility to ask the questions but for the attendees to find the answers! It is not my responsibility to fix things and it’s OK to ask other people in the room for input or affirmation during the meeting i.e. “do you feel we’ve covered everything?”, “is there anything missing from here you think we should be considering?”.

On the call, we wrote some pre-meeting reminders to help me get into a positive mindset before the meeting starts

Here is the list of statements we came up with

  • My job is to structure the meeting so the participants can achieve success
  • My job is to ask the questions so the participants can find the answers
  • It’s OK to ask others to visualise what they are thinking
  • They are expert in their field and will tell me what’s right and wrong
  • It’s not my responsibility to fix things
  • It’s not cheating to prepare

Find a safe opportunity and a colleague you trust to run through a typical activity you might do in front of a large group of people, i.e. plotting a timeline, or sketching an interface.

A dry run will help you to iron out any issues, stumbling points and will enable you to get some constructive feedback which you can feed into the session with the client.

To summarise, the coaching session proved extremely valuable. It’s empowered me to continue to find my voice and find my own leadership style.

I’d thoroughly recommend Geoff’s coaching services.

Delivery Director at @DeesonAgency

Delivery Director at @DeesonAgency