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Adapting Into Leadership As An Introvert

by Mervin Yeo

“Out of my league”, “Outside my comfort zone, “Double Whammy” and “Tall order” are phrases that come to mind when I reflect on my intial challenges of training and leading people. Those close to me knew it was going to take a lot out of me. At the same time, they knew if I set my mind to it, I will come out victorious.

Some of you have heard how I started and ran an international networking organisation from 1999 to 2012. Don’t fret! I’m not going into history. I wish to share how I adapted and worked my way into a leadership role, from an introvert perspective.

First of all, networking was totally new to me. Sure! I have heard of it in my previous jobs and articles. Thing is, I did not like the idea of meeting lots of people at events and I felt uncomfortable having intention to sell stuff to strangers. Leading the networking organisation meant not only did I have to network, I was expected to train others how to network in a systematic and structured way.
Secondly, I was leading business owners with more experience than me, with more employees working for them and earning higher revenue than I did. I had to train capable people and I had to coach some to become leaders. I think you get the idea and can probably imagine the stress I went through.

In the first 6 months as National Director, I read more than 20 books on networking, career, business, sales and marketing. I consulted successful trainers and entrepreneurs to learn how they connected with people. I was literally on a crash course to discover all I can about business networking. I travelled to the US for training to equip myself for my role. In fact, I flew to the US every other year to attend leadership training, directors meetings and large conferences.

As an introvert, you can imagine the odds stacked up against me to do my job well – having to network, provide training on networking and leading people.

In my first year, I always referred to “Be A People Person” authored by John C Maxwell. The little book is loaded with life-enriching gems, life-changing principles for relating positively and powerfully with family, friends, colleagues and clients. I found the principles helpful in a leadership position where successful entrepreneurs with many more years of experience than me, were following me. Despite my introversion and occasional social awkwardness, it was a humbling experience to be a leader of leaders and a trainer of trainers.

As part of my training on networking, here’s what I tell participants:

1. Networking is an acquired skill that can be learnt through talks, books, internet, seminars, courses, mentors, career coach, and peers.

2. Equip yourself with the right mindset, education, training and exposure. With lots of practice, you can master the art of networking.

These equipping would come under “Nurture”. Nurturing through learning and constant practice, has helped me adapt as an introvert to connect and relate with people. Nurturing through mentoring and role modelling has helped me adapt as an introverted leader. In fact, I am still praticising what I have been preaching for two decades.

Whenever a conversation topic around a table revolves around leadership, and heads turned towards me, my sheepish reply would be: “Hey! I’m a reluctant leader. I step up only when I see the need to.”

A couple of years ago, a leadership coach from the UK, who had been observing me – the work I do and the networks I run – asked if I considered myself as an introvert who is adaptable. I would like to think so.

So be it! I’m an adaptive introvert. Work in progress...

Photo credit: Ashley Ella Choo

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