Portrait of beautiful peacock with feathers out

When renowned psychologist Carl Jung popularized the terms “introvert” and “extrovert” way back in the 1920’s, he didn’t believe anyone was exclusively one or the other. “There is no such thing as a pure introvert or extrovert,” he told us. “Such a person would be in the lunatic asylum.” Yet, in the modern age, it is commonplace for many of us to voluntarily place ourselves in one of these categories.

Following Jung’s school of thought, we strongly advise against this.   

While simple dichotomies may appear useful for justifying our behaviors, they can also limit our potential and prevent us from digging deeper toward uncovering and being our true self. And on the executive leadership journey, these restraints can prove detrimental. For example, though we’ve been conditioned to regard the best leaders as assertive and charismatic, it turns out that introverted leadership styles are equally, and in some cases, more effective, than extroverted leadership styles.

Not convinced? Here are a few reasons why:

  1. Introverts tend to think before they speak, considering how their words will affect others.
  2. Introverts are often considered better listeners. They carefully consider the perspectives of others before making important decisions.
  3. Introverts are deeper thinkers who prefer to delve into issues before making decisions and moving on to other subjects.
  4. While many introverts are inspirational public speakers, they believe that writing a coherent document forces the brain to hone and clarify its ideas. Often introverts prefer writing to talking.
  5. Introverts are calmer in a crisis, projecting strength and reassurance.

With that said, a person’s level of extroversion or introversion can be situational and influenced by many factors including one’s level of confidence and environment. At the end of the day, you can be an effective leader on either side of the spectrum or flatly in the middle. What matters most is finding your authentic self.

From the inside out

The trick is to heighten your self-awareness so you can achieve balance and, most importantly, remain true to yourself and your audiences. Your executive voice is a form of self-expression, demonstrating your leadership style and ability to connect with those you are leading. As I said in my previous post on holistic branding, credibility no longer just wears a suit and tie. People believe and trust others they relate to. Being raw, scrappy and unedited can earn you clout as real, relevant and honest. Conversely, the overly polished image or flashy curated presentation style can easily appear phony and cringey – especially if this doesn’t fit with your natural self!

Whether you are looking to dip your toe or dive right in, here are some strategies for mastering the art of self-expression so you can better serve your audiences with authentic, magnetic storytelling that reflects your true, unique spirit.

Embrace vulnerability

The instant we feel vulnerable, our knee-jerk reaction is to do everything possible to remove ourselves from the situation and bolt on out of there. But if avoidance is your go-to response whenever you start to feel uncomfortable, you’ll never come close to reaching your full potential. As motivational speaker and author Brené Brown superbly said, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.”

Notably, vulnerability can become a powerful tool in your executive branding journey. This is because it forces us to confront aspects of ourselves that we may not otherwise, which eventually allows us to accept ourselves fully. Acceptance and confidence are empowering and allow us to connect with people on a much deeper level. These deeper connections open doors for us to constantly learn new things about us as individuals, other people and society. In turn, your executive voice will be adaptable. Amid a business landscape that’s rapidly evolving (and a world where pandemics, geopolitical turmoil and systematic racism are overwhelming), learning to embrace vulnerability will allow you to confidently step into the unknown and remain comfortable in the uncomfortable.

Don’t be afraid of conflict

Much has been written about conflict in the workplace and it appears that some leaders have adopted an approach where conflict is avoided at all costs. This is happening in physical office spaces as well as in online communities, some of which have become plain echo chambers rather than a roundtable discussion forum.

Positive conflict can be highly constructive, introducing new ideas that solve an industry’s ongoing challenges. While there is often a fear of contradicting or challenging someone, breakthroughs in thinking occur when opposing ideas are fully explored in a respectful and astute way. This is why it is very important to encourage members of your community to come to the table with a point of view. And, you should not be afraid to draw from your own perspective to take stances on issues too, so long as you offer examples, anecdotes and personal experiences to fortify your position. 

Take calculated risks

Thanks to a scientifically-studied phenomenon called “loss aversion,” humans are more inclined to avoid losing something they already have than to gamble on gaining something new. But, in an increasingly competitive business environment, taking no risk is the biggest risk of all. If you don’t take risks, your executive voice will get drowned out by other trailblazers willing to navigate uncharted territory and present audiences with new ideas.

So how do you know which risks are worth taking the leap for? You’ll want to consider if the opportunity at hand will allow you to focus on your unique gifts and passions. Will this new journey make you more valuable and useful in the marketplace? Will it surround you with people that inspire you? By harnessing your gifts and following what you love, you’ll be able to communicate your passion to others and speak with a strong executive voice that inspires others as well.

Take personal accountability when something goes wrong

Establishing your executive voice and sharing your personal story are rewarding when everything goes smoothly. But you’re only human after all and humans make mistakes. In putting yourself out there, you run the risk of something going wrong. Sometimes we misspeak on a topic, make a technical error, post the wrong link or we may inadvertently offend someone with our content. How you handle these challenges can be the tipping point that makes or breaks your voice.

All too often we see leaders online merely delete the contentious tweet or take down the post without an explanation. Or they double down on their stance without addressing the opposition or opening up dialogue.

Remember that an excuse is not the same as an explanation. Nobody wants to hear excuses. If you make a mistake, swiftly describe what happened and correct the error. Never pass along blame to a third party. Admitting that a mistake was made proves honesty and integrity – and shows that you take personal ownership of your work.

Use a helping hand

As previously stated, self-awareness is key to navigating the executive branding journey. But sometimes you need an objective outside party to tell you what’s missing. Even when you turn your weaknesses into strengths, they can still remain weaker than someone else who has mastered that skill. Even if you embrace vulnerabilities, there will still be challenges along the way where you’ll need help. Because of this, successful leaders are constantly looking to hire or partner with those that not only help them grow their core strengths but also complement their underlying weaknesses.

Part of this strategy may mean hiring an expert executive branding team. Don’t worry – they won’t create a new person for you to be. You already rock at being yourself and your network already knows and respects you for who you are! But an expert team can assist you at all phases of the process, helping you harness your strengths, redirect vulnerabilities and amplify your executive voice to better serve those who matter most.