If you've ever read Good to Great, then you’ll remember that the best leaders aren’t swaggering, boastful, arrogant, loudmouths, but quiet and humble men and women of principle that might even be described as shy. What a refreshing thought! As someone who easily gets labeled an introvert, I love when “quiet” qualities are affirmed. No offense to the extroverts in the room, of course, but the world is just set up better for you. Us quiet types are pretty misunderstood, and too often we don’t feel seen at all.
If you’re managing a team right now, you likely have some staffers who rarely speak up in meetings, who rarely speak about themselves, who seem terribly unnerved by requests to promote their “personal brands”, yet consistently produce exemplary work with little noise and not a lot of need for fanfare. These are your introverts, and they have a way of becoming (and feeling) invisible if you’re not careful. Such highly skilled workers are valuable, and you want to keep them around. Below you’ll find out how.
Connecting with the “invisible” employee requires a bit of an unconventional approach because traditional employee engagement activities -- brainstorming, group team building, even the new office fashion of open workspaces -- don’t speak to their quiet nature. Here are 5 suggestions to get you started:
- Go out of your way to notice them.
We call them “Invisible” employees because they’re not always in your face, not involved in office drama that requires your intervention, not copying you on every email. You need to make a special effort not to forget about them and take their low-key efficiency for granted. Make it a point to seek out the excellent workers who are quietly getting the job done, and recognize their efforts.
- Create new ways to communicate.
Both open-door policies and open meetings (bring up what bugs you) are well-intended, but only the more aggressive, outspoken employees are apt to take advantage of them. To make sure everyone gets heard, make sure you’re checking in one-on-one with employees for work updates and, in meetings, set a time limit for each person to provide input to avoid a situation where people are just shouting out answers. Invisibles/introverts tend to need more time to think about things and craft their answers, so consider emailing questions prior to meetings. Bonus points for offering them the opportunity to reply via email or an open suggestion box.
- Don’t require social media engagement with or promotion of your business.
Not everyone wants to put their personal life out there. Enough said.
- Find their hidden talents.
Invisibles tend to welcome responsibility and often make great managers, so provide opportunities for them to shine. I’m reminded of this article regarding “invisible” children -- the easy-to-manage but not particularly extraordinary kids -- in the care of our teachers and camp counselors. How this particular counselor connected with and discovered the amazing talent of one child is pretty profound. Follow her lead.
- Reward them meaningfully.
Invisible employees don’t particularly care to feel invisible and passed over for promotion, so acknowledge their work and reward them with work challenges that they can really immerse themselves in. If you’re giving a gift, make it from the heart, something that connects to their personal passions (hobbies, family life, etc.). True connection is a big deal to introverts.
There’s a lot of room for businesses and organizations to better their work environments and engage “introverted invisibles”. Lean into the challenge, and reap the rewards.