Staying an Introvert, Becoming a Leader
personal nature vs. the new reality
Today’s rapidly evolving healthcare environment is causing a sea change in the way labs do business. The path to continuing success depends on collaboration, persuasion, and putting the value of the lab front and center in an institution.
However, the traditional image of a laboratorian evokes an educated, introspective person—one who is used to working alone and thinking deeply about data. In other words, an introvert.
But to truly advocate for their labs, introverts need to “make some noise” through decisive and effective leadership. To do that, they must focus on their people skills just as much as the technical aspects of their jobs.
So how do we reconcile the two—introversion and leadership—in the lab? Just how does an introvert change the value proposition of his or her lab without having to change his or her very nature? Is it even possible?
It’s not only possible, but preferable. Introverts bring very important leadership skills to the table. But just how does that happen? Take the Lead has some helpful advice.
- Laboratorians tend to be introverts, but still need to take a visible leadership role to thrive in today’s marketplace
- Luckily, introverts bring indispensable leaderships skills to the table—and getting your voice heard at your institution is easier than you think
see the big picture
Being focused on deeply technical tasks can often lead laboratorians to stop noticing the larger trends in the industry. The first step towards leadership is to position yourself in the larger context. Once you do that, change becomes easier.
Fortunately, adaptation can be taught with the help of colleagues. You can consider coaching and mentoring with more seasoned leaders in your organization. They can help you get the adaptation skills you need for further development—helping you see the big picture and the way the lab aligns in that picture.
“Leadership skills can be learned,” says Jerry Penso, M.D., M.B.A., American Medical Group Association. “There is actually a language skill set that can be developed. Go seek it and actively make it a part of your agenda.”
find a good "bartender"
Instead of introverts battling against their own nature, partnering with people who can do the “heavy lifting” of extroversion can be an advantage. In fact, it takes a classic type of mentality renowned for making people feel at ease.
Nascimento believes that it all hinges on complimentary personalities. “I think it starts with hiring people around you that have the personality that compliments your leadership,” he said. “You hire a manager, you hire a director, whatever level it is in the lab, if that person is extroverted, you start partnering with that person. You say, ‘Okay, help me. Push me.’”
Play to your strengths
Remember that introversion is not a handicap. Introverts have key strengths that make them powerful relationship builders.
As Kathy Allen, Ph.D., observes, “I think that you could be a leader and an introvert at the same time. I‘m an introvert—but as an introvert, what I leverage in my leadership capacity is I’m really good at small, one-on-one relationships. I don't have to be connected to everybody, but I can connect really well with key people.”
Connecting with those key people is the path to promoting your lab as a valued contributor and clinical partner. As you bring your knowledge, expertise and insights to the table, you will gain colleagues and partners sharing what you know and sharing your value.
*Adapted from Inc. Magazine, “7 Reasons Introverts Make Great Leaders.” September 17, 2014. http://www.inc.com/jessica-stillman/7-reasons-introverts-make-great-leaders.html. Accessed March 9, 2015.
Working for the Higher good
Introversion is only a problem if you use it as an excuse to not act. Not acting may be a temptation when an introvert is compelled to do things they find difficult, like reaching out or speaking up.
When these challenges occur, it’s helpful to remember that you’re working toward something bigger, and that whatever discomfort you feel now will pay big dividends in the end.
Working toward that higher good gives direction, confidence, and purpose that benefits introverts when tasked with doing things outside of their comfort zones. Remember: it’s bigger than you!
can an introvert be a good lab leader?
Absolutely. In fact, it’s happening right now. Introverts are succeeding everywhere in upping the value and profile of their labs. They bring key leadership skills to the table, and can connect with others to compliment and project their skills that ultimately benefit patients as well as the bottom line.
"Leaders come in all styles. Probably the most important thing is authenticity. You want to be authentic to yourself; people can smell fakery. Part of being a good leader is figuring out who you really are and being that person. You don't want to just emulate Bill Gates or Steve Jobs–you want to be your kind of leader."
So if you’re nervous about that next board meeting, or reaching out to a decision maker in your institution, don’t be. Your very nature—perception, authenticity, and quiet strength—makes you an indispensible asset to leading your lab. Good luck.
key steps for leading as an introvert
- Build Connections: try connecting with a few key people at your next meeting; fruitful one-on-one dialogues can cultivate powerful advocates and allies for your lab
- Seek complementary personalities: find those on your team who have qualities that compliment yours; a good “bartender” can be invaluable for making yourself heard
- Find an extrovert “mentor”: this type of partner can help you deal with issues or challenges that take you out of your comfort zone
- Remember, you are working for the higher good: keep this mantra top of mind whenever you feel discouraged or uncomfortable