The Secret to Becoming an Influential Introverted Leader: Pat Wadors, CHRO LinkedIn
Pat Wadors has risen through the ranks to become a very successful and influential senior executive as the Chief Human Resources Officer and SVP of Global Talent at LinkedIn. However, Pat is not your predictable, over-energized, charismatic, senior executive. She is an introvert. So how did an introvert navigate large corporate bureaucracy to build a team of trusted followers and earn a seat at the executive table?
We were lucky enough to sit down with Pat to learn about her journey and the exciting new program she is building: an educational and developmental program that helps introverts and extroverts learn how to communicate more effectively and work together more efficiently.
David: You’ve been a key advocate and pioneer for the evolution of introverted leaders. As a self proclaimed introvert who has risen to the highest ranks of senior leadership, what would you say has been the key for you personally becoming such an influential leader?
Pat: It was a challenge that I identified as a young manager. In my early 30s, I managed a dispersed cross functional team of about 40 individuals in the semiconductor industry. I was an execution artist; I made lots of lists, was super organized, and really strategy focused. But, I didn’t interact a lot socially with my team. I would eat lunch by myself, I didn’t join them for happy hours – really, being a new mom at the time, in a travel heavy role, it was my way of recharging in order to ensure I could dedicate the necessary energy to do the best job possible every day.
I knew something was wrong, as roughly a quarter of my team didn’t connect with me, and they were not producing. I decided to do a modified 360 Degree review with these ten individuals to better understand why they were unhappy with me. What I found was – they didn’t know me. They didn’t trust me.
They had a right to know who they were following, how I worked, how I was going to help them, and how to best communicate with me. I should’ve given them that information up front. I should’ve let them know that I’m an introvert and educated them on what that meant, and how we can best connect. As an example: I am best able to dedicate my energy in the mornings and in the afternoons. I need that time during lunch and after the workday to recharge my batteries. As an introvert it’s not about not wanting to always be “on” – it’s about prioritizing when, where, and to what I can best dedicate that energy to maximize my effectiveness.
Now, I make sure everyone knows how I operate up front. I let them know how best to communicate with me, and I give them permission to nudge me if my communication is lagging or unclear. As a result, the majority of those 10 who were disconnected with me have now followed me through multiple roles and jobs.
David: Introverts generally get a bad rap and are often stereotyped as socially challenged individuals who are not suited for leadership. Why do you think that perception exists?
Pat: A leader is traditionally seen as someone who is very charismatic. Someone who can command a room and has a never ending wall of energy. The perception is that introverts use that personality trait as an excuse not to work or contribute. While that might be the case for some individuals, the truth is introverts are wired differently. We need to choose when and how to use our voices. Yes, introverts can work on improving our social interaction and human relationships, but our energy supply for constructive communication and interaction is a lot less than the extrovert’s. We are more likely to invest our energy to delve deeper into relevant topics, and to ask questions that lead to solutions. While some perceive introverts as shy, or afraid of public speaking – the fact is introverts want to participate. We’d rather communicate more effectively by prioritizing the opportunities or topics we wish to dedicate our energy to, and being fully informed and prepared before doing so.
David: “Communicating effectively” often means different things for different people. What does “communicating effectively” mean for the introvert who aspires to manage others or ascend into a leadership role.
Pat: Introverts tend to be strong calibrators of the data that makes up conversation. Yes, we like to be fully informed before dedicating the energy to speak, but we’re also great listeners. We listen to understand, not just to hear. When we speak, we don’t speak to be heard. We speak to solve problems. We know how to read an audience, observe body language, and understand the conversation. When we contribute, we’re better prepared to offer value with our input. If an introvert can embrace this early on in their career, they can blossom into an effective leader.
David: Seems like a tip even our extrovert readers can take away.
Pat: Everyone can be better listeners and more informed when they speak. Where introverts can be better is not passing up the chance to offer their valuable thoughts when the opportunity is there.
David: That’s a great point. Often in meetings, too many great ideas never make it to the table because of reluctance to speak up. What can introverts do to overcome this and make sure their voices and ideas are heard?
Pat: There are a few key principles to help ensure an introvert conveys the valuable information they want to contribute at meetings.
First, I’ve found that we have our best energy early on in meetings. I encourage introverts to share their thoughts immediately – when they can dedicate good energy to the value they are offering.
Second, I subscribe to the notion that — when speaking — less is more; and the more informed you are before you speak, the more confident you’ll be. So if there’s a meeting that’s important enough for me to be a part of, then I’d like to have the agenda, or any documents ahead of time – two days prior if possible. This helps me to highlight items where I feel I can dedicate extra energy. Then I can come prepared with fully formed thoughts and value to contribute as opposed to engaging in an exercise of impromptu speaking. Out of respect for our introverted meeting attendees, we should all engage in this practice of providing our meeting agendas well in advance to ensure we offer our audience — both introverts and extroverts — the best opportunity to provide the valuable insight or data we’re requesting.
Finally, since introverts tend to put more cognitive thought into what we think is valuable and energy-worthy, it takes longer to formulate those thoughts to where we feel comfortable sharing. When I have an important thought that I’ve thought twice about in that meeting, I challenge myself to speak out. Though my thoughts may not be fully formed at this point, at least I’ve put some thought into it – and hopefully the ensuing dialogue proves valuable. If I still have some important thoughts that I haven’t shared by the time the meeting has ended, I will find time afterward to put my notes down on paper and share them with the relevant individuals.
David: Senior Leadership has traditionally been perceived as being populated by extroverts who can motivate and influence others with their communication. In an extroverted environment, where communication and social interaction is as important as performance, how can introverts maximize their effectiveness as communicators in order to motivate extroverted team members?
Pat: The big risk is NOT telling your team that you’re an introvert or what that means. Educate them – teach them how you work best. If the lines of communication are open from the beginning, you’ll earn their respect and trust much faster and your working relationship will benefit. While they may be used to very high energy, charismatic managers who tend to dominate the conversation – let them know you’re about listening and understanding. That your goal is to be as informed as possible about everything that’s important in order to best help them overcome their challenges and achieve their goals. And of course, let them know they always have your permission to nudge you should they feel there’s a lag in communication. Of course, every good leader — introverted or extroverted — needs to recognize the needs of their introverted contributors as well. So, like I mentioned before, I try to ensure my agenda is in their hands well in advance. My meetings tend to be more cognitive, so while they may go a little slower – they are full of substance, and both our introverts and extroverts are given opportunities to contribute thoughtfully.
David: You have partnered with Susan Cain best selling author of the book “Quiet” to launch The Quiet Ambassador Program (QAP) at LinkedIn. Can you tell us about this initiative, and what this program is doing to help develop introverts into better leaders?
Pat: The Quiet Ambassador Program is focused on building awareness of introversion and establishing a culture and community where both introverts and extroverts learn how to understand and navigate that community to work together more effectively.
For introverts, the QAP provides a framework of tools, insights, training, and coaching sessions in order to build a quiet confidence and an understanding that being an introvert is not a barrier to becoming successful, or even an influential leader.
For extroverts, the program teaches them how introverts are genetically wired to be that way, and how to read and engage with them.
The Quiet Ambassador Program helps to establish a culture where every voice is heard – a culture that’s embedded in the DNA of every leader so that every great idea, solution, or passion is flushed out, no matter whom it comes from.