Interview with Dr Jennifer Kahnweiler, Author of The Introverted Leader

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Home > Articles > Interview with Dr Jennifer Kahnweiler, Author of The Introverted Leader

 Interview with Dr Jennifer Kahnweiler, Author of The Introverted Leader

Supriya Ahluwalia | General
December 4, 2012
​Dr Kahnweiler’s wealth of experience is evident in the way she differentiates each variety of introverts. An interview was conducted with her in conjunction with the review of her book The Introverted Leader to elicit her motivations and inspiration behind the text. 

The basis of the text was the result of years of executive coaching and talks. Dr Kahnweiler found that introverts were often overlooked and misunderstood. This often led to them being passed over for promotions or career-enhancing opportunities.

She identified recurring themes in her work and in global organisations on the conflicts faced by introverts at the workplace. She asks: “Does a company culture allow for different working styles and approaches?” 

“In some European cultures for example, socialising is part of the job. Introverts don’t like doing this all the time so there could be a conflict between taking time for oneself and socialising with the group. In some progressive Western companies, immediate decisions are called for. Introverted employees may experience undue pressures to react and respond when they would rather take time to think things over and discuss their ideas with the group,” says Dr Kahnweiler.

The observation of introverts having an increased tendency to think things through via quiet reflection time is quantified in her book through qualitative and quantitative research. This is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, the propensity for introverts to think things through can be considered a strength. This strength plays an important part in enhancing their ability to plan in ways that are not mirrored in an extrovert’s approach.

Throughout the course of her research, Dr Kahnweiler has been able to identify industries and management structures that could make it more challenging for introverts to develop. She found that jobs requiring a higher degree of people interaction can prove extremely exhausting for the introvert. “The amount of people engagement they can handle depends somewhat on the strength of their introversion. Positions in customer service or sales are not great fits for introverts unless they can get quiet time. Open space environments are not ideal for introverts either but can be dealt with if they have places to move to when they need to have focused conversations or listen to others”, says Dr Kahnweiler.

Mainly conducted via E-mail, her research methods with introverts gave them the opportunity to think and reflect before giving their answers. One in every two people was found to be introverted.

A surprise emerging from her research and writing was the number of extroverts who were interested in the topic of introverted members within their organisations. Dr Kahnweiler comments that everyone knows of managers, bosses, or colleagues who are introverted.

Her research entails perspectives and examples from extroverts and introverts. Extroverts’ misconception of introverts not being people-persons, or being shy or awkward would have influenced their interactions with introverts. Thus from Dr Kahnweiler’s research, they were pleasantly surprised and amazed at how much thought introverts put into their work and actions. 

When asked about introvert behavioural patterns, Dr Kahnweiler found six strengths. They are Taking Quiet Time, Preparation, Writing, Engaged Listening, Focused Conversations, and A Thoughtful Use of Social Media. These strengths can be used to influence and warn of the dangers of using them incorrectly. These findings are discussed more extensively in Dr Kahnweiler’s other book Quiet Influence: The Introvert’s Guide to Making a Difference. Dr Kahnweiler’s earlier book focused on introverted managers, while this focuses on introverted people. She demonstrates how introverts can be highly effective and influential when they embrace their natural strengths. 

A brief overview of the chapters focuses on the aforementioned individual strengths: 

1. Taking Quiet Time—the need for periods of solitude can serve to increase or drive one’s creativity, self-awareness, and help introverts connect with others.
2. Preparation—having the space to make careful preparations sets introverts at ease. It makes them seem more knowledgeable and allows them to anticipate objections (i.e.: reflection).
3. Writing—the preference for writing enables introverts to influence through deep, authentic, and well-developed arguments. 
4. Listening—introverts make good listeners. This is a crucial skill for establishing rapport and mutual understanding, which consequently leads to engagement.
5. Focused conversation—as introverts are not particularly into small talk, they excel in serious, purpose-driven, one-on-one interactions which are vital for influencing.
6. Thoughtful Use of Social Media—social media seems designed for introverts as they can control the when, where, and how thoughtful communications take place.

For introverts, I highly recommend The Introverted Leader. It focuses on applying inherent qualities, embracing and harnessing the unique strengths of introverts, and putting themselves out there. 

Supriya Ahluwalia is a freelance writer based in Melbourne, Australia.

Copyright © 2013 Singapore Institute of Management

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