Plato Elevate Winter Summit has been announced (Dec 7th-8th)

🔥

Back to resources

Leading as an Introvert

Personal Growth
Leadership

17 December, 2020

Arzumy MD
Arzumy MD

CTO at Fave

Arzumy MD, CTO at Fave, discusses the phenomenon of introverted engineers and how they can rise up to leadership roles.

Problem

At the risk of generalizing, I would claim that most engineers lean toward being introverts. We, engineers, prefer talking to a computer than other people. I was not bothered by that as long as there were only a couple of us on the team as we knew each other well and worked together for a while. However, as the team grew I found myself in a new role. As a CTO I had to talk more often to people outside my team and moreover, often publicly in town hall meetings or Q&A sessions.

So, there I was, standing in front of a large group of critical-minded engineers (if you would allow for another generalization) doing the talking. I would be feeling exceedingly uncomfortable because that was not me. Also, as an introvert, if I would feel that I am outside of my domain of competence -- such as talking about the business strategy -- I would be very reserved and reluctant to speak. The meetings would frequently end without me saying anything.

Actions taken

I understood that my strength lies in building individual relationships so I focused on one-on-ones to establish a trusting relationship with my reports while at the same time I was able to improve my communication skills. As an introvert, I was a good listener because obviously since we talk less we listen more. For the first two years, I was leveraging on one-on-ones to lead the team. At that time, I was reluctant to take any questions from the “crowd” because I felt I was not quick on my feet and witty and would wait for one-on-ones to address those questions.

I also learned how to channel my energy. Whether I was in a large meeting or one-on-one I was feeling that the interaction with other people was draining my energy. To overcome that I would insert some buffer time between meetings that I would spend alone chilling.

At the same time, our CEO was well aware of the problem introverted engineers were facing and he made sure that everyone was heard. Before a meeting would end, he would ask people who didn’t speak up to share their opinion. This was crucially important to me because I was always hesitant to speak up at the meetings. I believed that by the time I would process my thoughts, people would already move on. However, he would block ten minutes for a discussion so that everyone could bring anything regardless if it is “outdated” or not.

That helped me build my confidence as I realized that people would listen to me because I was also able to collect my thoughts and articulate my arguments better when I was not rushing to do my talking part. Based on that experience, the way I groom other leaders is to secure some time for them to be able to express their opinion. Also, here in Asia, we are not culturally reserved, I had to empower them and create the space for them to speak up.

Eventually, that became my preoccupation -- how to empower and create a safe environment for introverted engineers to grow into their roles.

Lessons learned

  • Awkward conversations will be awkward until they are not anymore. That means that you should continue with these conversations, and practice until they simply cease to be awkward. Simply, nothing beats practice.
  • As an introvert, your main strength is your thinking. We think before we speak. Be aware of the advantage that gives us. We should be confident when we speak up because we thought things through. Maybe we don’t talk all the time but when we do, it has a significant weight.
  • As a leader who wants to create a safe environment, you should always bear in mind that everyone can have something to say. Regardless of how quiet or timid they are, they may have something to say. You as a leader should acknowledge that and provide them with the encouragement and opportunity to speak up.

Discover Plato

Scale your coaching effort for your engineering and product teams
Develop yourself to become a stronger engineering / product leader


Related stories

Firing Somebody for the First Time

23 November

William Bajzek, Director of Engineering at Sapphire Digital, remembers the first time that he needed to make the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of the well-being of his team.

Leadership
Firing
Team Reaction
William Bajzek

William Bajzek

Director of Engineering at Sapphire Digital

Building trust as a new Manager

23 November

Neelima Annam, Sr Director Information Technology at Outmatch, shares her insight into her growth path of evolving her management style to build trust.

Alignment
Personal Growth
Conflict Solving
Coaching / Training / Mentorship
New Manager
Neelima Annam

Neelima Annam

Sr. Director Information Technology at Outmatch HCM

What it takes to become a great product manager

19 November

James Engelbert, Head of Product at BT, shares his deep understanding of the traits of a successful product manager and how to get aligned with the organization’s path to success.

Product Team
Personal Growth
Leadership
Strategy
James Engelbert

James Engelbert

Head of Product at BT

Building a Long-Lasting Career Infrastructure Using Ikigai Principles

16 November

Albert Lie, former Founding Engineer and Tech Lead at Xendit, shares his annual performance review process implementing principles from the Ikigai framework into regular check-ins.

Alignment
Scaling Team
Personal Growth
Meetings
Motivation
Albert Lie

Albert Lie

Former Tech Lead at Xendit

How to Work With People Who Are Different Than You

11 November

Rajesh Agarwal, VP & Head of Engineering at Syncro, shares how effectively he collaborated with a newly-joined team as a diverse candidate.

Acquisition / Integration
Leadership
Collaboration
Cultural Differences
Rajesh Agarwal

Rajesh Agarwal

VP and Head of Engineering at Syncro

You're a great engineer.
Become a great engineering leader.

Plato (platohq.com) is the world's biggest mentorship platform for engineering managers & product managers. We've curated a community of mentors who are the tech industry's best engineering & product leaders from companies like Facebook, Lyft, Slack, Airbnb, Gusto, and more.