Author Archives: Jennifer Kahnweiler

An Introverted writer takes a leap into leadership


Introverted writer takes a leap into leadership


My friend and colleague, writer and social activist Sophia Dembling is one of the wittiest people I know. She is a straight shooter and speaks her truth. I first met Sophia (or “Sophie” as some call her) 9 years ago when my first book, The Introverted Leader was published. There were only a handful of people writing about the topic of introverts and she quickly became one of my favorites.

Her first book, The Introvert’s Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World reflects a sharp wit and unparalleled honesty about the introvert experience. I have also gained perspective from Sophia’s sharp commentary on her Psychology Today blog. She has a way of explaining research so that it makes perfect sense. Sophia pulls back the covers and asks us to question the conclusions of studies we might otherwise take for granted.

Sophia also has written about being introverted in romantic relationships. Introverts In Love: The Quiet Way To Happily Ever After grabbed slices from her own married life, interspersed with the stories of others. In describing the book she wrote, “All humans have a need to be known and be understood on a deeper level and perhaps nobody more than introverts, who might be slow to warm but who hunger for profound connection,”

After several years of corresponding via email, we finally met in person over margaritas in her adopted hometown of Dallas, TX.  In addition to our mutual interest in writing about introverts, we discovered that we both were native New Yorkers and had fathers who were writers. We also both love to travel.  In sum, as an extrovert and introvert, we were genius opposites, more alike than different.

One rainy afternoon two weeks ago, I sat on my couch responding to her questions about introverted leadership. Sophia has recently become more politically active and is experiencing some ambivalence and a steep learning curve as she moves into new leadership roles. She knew that I had just finished an updated version of The Introverted Leader and was always eager to “riff” with her.

We discussed some lessons that she has found hard to swallow, like asserting herself with a volunteer who bailed on an important commitment. For someone who doesn’t like to be around people 24 – 7, Sophia feels particularly challenged. As a good journalist does, she somehow pulled together the nuggets from our conversation into a coherent essay. I hope it helped her to think about how to use her quiet strength to inspire people..and perhaps you will find some ideas here as well.

Some highlights:

  • Sometimes people are thrust into leadership when they didn’t ask for it
  • Good leaders admit that they don’t know it all and are vulnerable.
  • She became reinvigorated when she decided to leave a dwindling volunteer group and put her energy into working for an inspiring political candidate.
  • Dealing with people who are “energy sapping” is hard.
  • When you don’t understand why someone is not following through on their commitment, don’t email – pick up the phone.

Read Sophia’s Psychology Today blog here.:  Lead or Follow, An Introvert Weighs the Challenge.




Introverts: Perceived weaknesses can be great strengths


The other side of being different

I was fortunate this past week to attend an interview with the author, Gail Saltz, M.D. as she discussed her new book The Power of Different at the MJCCA Book Festival in Atlanta.

In it,  she describes how all kinds of brain “problems” associated with learning and mental differences are actually the source of great strengths. She cited many examples including that of Author David Sedaris,  who attributes his perfectionism and discipline to his anxiety. This has been instrumental in his writing success.

Albert Einstein had Attention Deficit Disorder, and according to the author, his hyper-focus allowed him to produce his 3 most important papers in only 3 weeks!

I thought about how Introverts are often challenged by being seen as different. This is particularly true in extrovert dominant workplaces or with leaders who are extroverts and not aware of introversion.

There is nothing wrong with introversion. It is simply how someone is wired. The stigma that a person with autism, a learning disability or attention deficit disorder faces is not unlike what introverts report experiencing.

Many introverts tell me that before they were aware of introversion as natural and normal they had internalized judgmental thinking from others and thought something was wrong with them.

When they don’t speak up or take longer to respond than others in the room, they are called “slow.” Yet, the depth of thinking introverts exhibit is exactly BECAUSE they took their time to think. 

When introverts are quiet in a meeting of extroverts they are seen as having nothing to contribute. Yet they are processing their thoughts. When encouraged to speak, their comments reveal that they have been listening deeply. The often cogent, high-quality responses of introverts reflect that.

For people with some kind of learning or psychological difference, early childhood experiences of struggle can greatly impact self-esteem. For introverts, negatively labeled shy in school or being graded down for not speaking up in class can take years to overcome.

The positive news is that the tide is turning with what I call the “rise of the introverts.”  As introversion has slipped into the public discourse, introverts are owning their strengths and others are starting to think about them more positively.

Another positive development is how we perceive negative judgments as we age.  There is a phenomenon called neuroplasticity which says the brain is like plastic and can form new neural pathways. This allows us to change our thinking about how we see ourselves in addition to changing our behavior.

One point that Dr. Saltz made was about how we must advocate for those who are not heard. In research for the upcoming 2nd edition of The Introverted Leader: Building  On Your Strength, I spoke with Sallie, an introverted recruiting manager. She makes a habit of researching potential team members who are qualified but have not been especially vocal. “Being an introvert myself, I am especially sensitive to this situation. I see my role as an introvert advocate in hiring discussions.”

As we all learn to reframe what society has deemed “weaknesses” and appreciate our strengths we can step into our full potential and allow others to do the same.

The Introvert Edge: Being Comfortable With Silence

The Introvert Edge: Being comfortable with silence We all sat inside the old church turned “maker space.” Tools lined up on shelves next to chairs that had been borrowed for the occasion. The tributes to our friend had just begun while his sister waited on Skype from her home in Virginia to say a few words. As family members fiddled with the poor WiFi signal we shifted in our seats.  In that pause, we each fell into our own reflecting pool.

Then it happened. The man leading the service rose and talked about the space we sat in.  At any other time, it would have been helpful to learn more about this burgeoning movement of craftsmen helping each other.  In this sad moment, it felt jarring to me. I have no doubt that the MC believed he was taking good advantage of the unplanned break.

Yet as he spoke I fell out of my world and my lovely memories of our friend of 20 years.

A few days later, I stood in front of a group and it happened again. This time I was sharing the lesson I have learned from so many introverts in my work and life. That lesson? Silence is to be cherished. It is a time to recoup, regroup and absorb.

As I asked the group to try out staying silent for a few seconds, a woman in the 2nd row of the lecture hall shrieked with laughter. She couldn’t take the discomfort.

I smiled in recognition.

She is definitely not alone in being so uncomfortable with silence that she feels compelled to fill the air with noise to combat that feeling. I do understand.  I once found silence so prickly that I would imagine I was talking just to fill my head with sound!

However, I have learned to embrace the quiet that introverts cherish. I find that it settles me down. The philosopher Pico Ilyer said, “It is only by stopping movement that we see where to go.” If you want to read about how people like comedian Gary Shandling viewed silence and what I learned from eating at a silent dinner read more here.

Perhaps you fall prey to the extrovert’s curse of over talking.  If you want to increase your comfort with silence, remember to breathe. And not just regular breathing. Try breathing slowly. Count “1,2, 3 “slowly as you breathe in and the same as you breathe out.

The first step is becoming aware of what happens to you when no words are spoken. Observe yourself and take in the world around you. if you are aware of your urge to speak you can accept it. And like good shrieking laughter, it will pass. Notice the gifts you receive when you stay silent and make it a practice in your life.




More than living. Thriving by “do not disturb.”

shutterstock_161487131I had the pleasure of responding to some interview questions from one of my introverted leader role models. Arianna Huffington. She has created a movement called ThriveGlobal and the site has SO many resources to help us learn ways of unplugging, recharging and getting back to a healthy way of living. We can learn how to thrive.

Arianna ‘s questions helped me reflect on the flow of my day. I think that it is so helpful to examine our daily habits and adjust them towards more balance. I promote continual self-assessment with my clients and colleagues and it is important to practice what I preach. By sharing our own struggles and small wins we can achieve what Arianna promotes “More than living. Thriving.”

Check out her great books The Sleep Revolution and  Thrive for some compelling research AND practical strategies.  I guarantee you will improve your energy and outlook. Sleep is definitely underrated!

Here is an excerpt from the interview:

Thrive Global: What’s the first thing you do when you get out of bed? 

Jennifer Kahnweiler: I grew up with the NY Times so I open my IPAD and read the paper in order to connect to the outside world. This routine also brings back comforting images of my parents and their morning ritual.

TG:   What gives you energy? 

JK: I am an extrovert, so connecting with people is my high. I especially like a good dose of conversation after thinking and writing.

TG: What is your secret life hack? 

JK: Keeping perspective. Asking myself “How important is it?” or “Will I remember this a year from now?”

TG: Name a book that changed your life. 

JK: When I was 10 years old I read a book about the pioneering social worker, Jane Addams who founded the settlement house Hull House in Chicago. I loved reading about the power one woman could have. I knew then that I wanted to make helping people the focus of my work.

TG: Tell us about your relationship with your phone. Does it sleep with you? 

JK: I often have to remember that I have the power in the relationship! I can turn it off, turn it on, use the “Do Not Disturb” function or move it to the next room. I am constantly looking for ways to manage this relationship. I admit that I do often keep it in the bedroom because I like the alarm options.

A bit more here:)


Introverted Leaders are Primed to Lead Millennials

introverted leaders millennialsRyan Jenkins, is an internationally recognized Millennial and Generation Z keynote speaker, generations expert, and columnist. This post is adapted from his new book, The Millennial Manual: The Complete How-To Guide to Manage, Develop, and Engage Millennials at Work

Ryan offers some great suggestions here for instilling a strong work ethic in Millennials. Introverted leaders, who take the time to listen, coach and build relationships of depth with their teams and customers are uniquely poised to get the best out of their younger workforce.

Employers pursue it, leaders exude it, fulfillment is derived from it, customers expect it, success depends on it, and career progression is the result of it…what is it?

A strong work ethic.

Eric Chester, the author of Reviving Work Ethic: A Leader’s Guide to Ending Entitlement and Restoring Pride in the Emerging Workforce, describes work ethic as, “positive, enthusiastic people who show up for work on time, who are dressed and prepared properly, who go out of their way to add value and do more than what’s required of them, who are honest, who will play by the rules, and who will give cheerful, friendly service regardless of the situation.”

Workers who view the work they do—fun or not fun, menial or noble—as a critical part of the bigger picture and execute the work with excellence, derive higher levels of satisfaction from their work, unlock more opportunities, and become more promote-able than those content with the minimum effort required.


With those type of benefits, why wouldn’t someone want to cultivate a strong work ethic?


Work ethic is a value based on hard work and diligence. It’s the principle that hard work is intrinsically virtuous or worthy of reward. In other words, work ethic is not something we are born with, it’s a learned behavior.


Work ethic is part of an individual’s personal values and much like a company’s corporate values, they must be taught and modeled daily.


Previous generations have defined success at work by time and tenure, but Millennials measure it by the impact. Millennials ask themselves, “What’s the biggest impact I can make with the limited time that I have?” This mindset is often interpreted by managers as “lazy” because it clashes with previous generations view of what hard work is and should be. (Here is an article that explores this topic further.)


We must be careful when comparing a new generation of workers with previous generations when the way in which we work has changed so significantly over the generations.

Here are a few actions that can help instill a strong work ethic into Millennials…

  • Clearly communicate the expected work ethic. Too many managers make assumptions that Millennials ought to know the expected work ethic. Stop assuming and tell them.
  • Demonstrate the right work ethic daily. Not being innovative and working smart or not having a healthy work-life balance may deter Millennials from following your example.
  • Create channels for work ethic. Ensure Millennials are equipped and have access to innovative tools where they can put their unique skill sets to work.
  • Connect work ethic values to the big picture. The job of a leader is to paint a picture of the preferred future. Help Millennials connect their actions to the bigger picture.

Because of the shifting landscape of work and Millennials varied approach to work, one of the greatest challenges when instilling work ethic into Millennials is defining a baseline for strong work ethic. The best way to overcome this is…


Let the customer define the work ethic.


The behaviors that Millennial employees need to demonstrate should be defined by the needs of the customers or clients.

If customers need…

  • Reliability – then employees must be available or deliver products/services when or where customers need them.
  • Quality – then employees must do everything in their power to produce high-quality products or service.
  • Honesty – then employees must display integrity in their actions and in every interaction.
  • Professionalism – then employees must dress, act, and prepare like professionals.
  • Positivity – then employees must commit to serving the customer with positivity, friendliness, and enthusiasm.
  • Delighting – then employees must find ways to go the extra mile.
  • Promptness – then employees must be timely in their responses, attendance, and deliverables.
  • Expertise – then employees must demonstrate authority or a willingness to learn.
  • Respect – then employees must be poised, diplomatic, and display grace under pressure.
  • Determination – then employees must embrace challenges and focus on solving the customer’s problem.

It’s the responsibility of the leader to understand what the customer or client needs and to clearly and consistently communicate the work ethic needed to satisfy those needs to their Millennial employees. Once the customer-defined work ethic has been established, give space to Millennial employees to see how they take ownership and execute the newly formed values.

As your customers evolve, so will the work ethic needed to create the best results for customers.



Can introverted leaders be assertive?




Mary Barra is the CEO of General Motors. As a young engineer, she confronted an assembly worker who directed a wolf whistle in her direction. “What are you doing?” she asked. He was trying to attract her attention, he told her. She requested that in the future he do that by saying “Hi.” This simple yet assertive statement resulted in more respectful greetings from him, and according to Barra, the catcalls from other men in the plant diminished. Being an introvert, as Mary Barra is, shouldn’t limit your ability to assert yourself. In fact, introversion and assertiveness are a perfect combination.

What assertiveness looks like 

Assertiveness is often incorrectly confused with aggressiveness, but assertiveness is characterized by mutual respect and clear, open, and honest communication. Aggressive behavior, on the other hand, is disrespectful and shuts people down. Introverts show us that you don’t have to yell to get what you want.

In my research on genius opposite pairs of workplace introverts and extroverts, the introvert’s steady, intentional, persistence often made the difference in their success. On one sales team, introverted Brian stood in the back of the room, quietly checking in with prospects and responding to their questions. His louder, extroverted teammate, Audrey, made an exuberant pitch from the stage. Brian was assertive by following up with his key target customers for months and, in some cases, years. He closed most of the deals with his persistence and follow through.

In a more well-known example, Rosa Parks, a 42-year-old seamstress and civil rights hero, exhibited true assertiveness when she made the decision to go against the law and sit in the white section of the bus in Montgomery, AL. Her quiet courage led to a widespread bus boycott that ultimately struck down the segregation laws on buses throughout the land.

Introvert Daryl Hall of the musical pair Hall and Oates  referring to his low-key role in the popular duo acknowledged his brand of assertiveness and the important role he plays by saying “You can’t have a sunset without the horizon.”

Create boundaries

Many introverted clients complain about working long hours and are not sure how to push back on their workload. How do you set boundaries so you can have more control over your work and your life? Consider these examples:

The boss wants you to work late for the third time this week. It could be time to say, “No, I can’t, because I have commitments at home.” As mentioned in the earlier example, let’s say you believe you deserve a raise. You persist in following up with your “ask,” even when turned down the previous quarter. When someone takes credit for your work on a project, you can be assertive and tell your team that it was your original design.

There are countless opportunities to speak up for yourself. Introverts like GM’s CEO Barra have pushed themselves and developed their skills in this area by practicing and pushing themselves to speak up. It is not always easy. Figure out when it is important to set boundaries and find ways to express yourself that are respectful, yet firm.

Set the stage for others to assert themselves 

As a leader, assertiveness can also be a way to advocate for employees. Melinda Gates, the co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, makes a point of speaking up in support of female colleagues “when a man restates something that a woman already said or talks over her at a meeting.” And she calls herself out when she falls into that behavior herself.

You can also support introverts on your team when they don’t feel comfortable asserting themselves. Bill Stainton, a professional speaker, and Emmy award-winner was chairing a professional board. He tells the story of failing to ask Lucy, an introverted board member, more about her background and skills. After she finished her board term, he discovered she had a goldmine of expertise in an area that would have been helpful in growing their organization. Bill considered it a large, missed opportunity. After that experience, he has made it a point to learn more about the strengths of the people he is working with, especially when they don’t freely self-disclose that information.

So by understanding what assertiveness vs. aggressiveness looks like, turning to other introverted leaders for examples and setting the stage for introverts on your team to be heard, you can act assertively in the way that works for you and get results.

Collaboration drives open spaces for introverts


One of the best things about going on the road to give speeches (aside from sampling the local cuisine) is to see how workplaces are evolving. Last week I had the honor of delivering a keynote to the folks at the American Chemical Society and their Chemical Abstracts Service. CAS, as it is known, “is made up of scientists who collect, and organize all publicly disclosed substance information creating the world’s most valuable collection of content that is vital to innovation worldwide.”

After lunch, I was taken on a tour of the Columbus, OH facility and heard the story of how they are transforming much of their building to meet the demands of a new work flow.  The software developers in the IT area, for instance, have adopted Agile as the way they perform work and this lends itself to ongoing discussions and connection throughout the day. In the “before” photo at the top of this post, you can see how many of the offices were set up in what they call “submarine hallways.”

Joe Sjostrom, Director, Product Technology, and Operations at CAS is an astute introverted leader who shared his experience in this transition from offices to open space. At first, he was very skeptical, but now says he would never go back to the old ways. In fact, his office sits smack dab in the middle of the open space, near the feeding bowl for the cat. Yes – there is a company cat who hangs out with everyone.

Joe explained why he thinks introverts thrive in this new open workspace, contrary to what you might expect; that they would hole up away from people.

“I’m really glad you got the opportunity to see our new work space” he wrote me in a follow-up email,  Regarding introverts and work environment, I’m sure many would balk at a statement that “open spaces are good for introverts”. The key issue is that the work of software application development has changed from what used to be a mostly solo activity to what is now a highly collaborative activity.”

Joe continued, “So the work environment has necessarily evolved, and the (surprising/counter-intuitive) discovery is that software engineers (in general, a highly introverted population) are actually able to adapt in a very positive way to this new environment. As I see it, we introverts don’t actually “change”, there is still a strong bias for some element of isolation.  But my experience has been that the human mind is actually much more highly adaptable and without actually being physically isolated, the open environment can be well-tolerated – and the overall team productivity is *greatly* enhanced. As I mentioned, I can hardly comprehend how we ever got work done in the “submarine hallway” days!” See the photo of the offices Joe refers to at the top of this piece.

But my experience has been that the human mind is actually much more highly adaptable and without actually being physically isolated, the open environment can be well-tolerated – and the overall team productivity is *greatly* enhanced.

Joe also told me that most team members learn to tune out extraneous conversations but will chime in when they think they can contribute. He also said that the headphones they ordered were not used.

The wave of the future is connection and collaboration. And while having spaces and places for breaks can help, the bottom line is that more work is getting done in this open space. In fact, the marketing director told me her work area is removing offices and creating a new open space environment to support the new Agile work processes they are implementing.

There might be a reason to keep a few old offices that offer privacy and quiet. A few of the editors and proof readers said they LOVE those submarine like spaces with doors because they can concentrate. So maybe some work functions won’t ever find it necessary to change. In this collaborative software development department, though, they are have gone “all in” and are not looking back. The results are speaking for themselves.






How Introverted CEOs Make A Powerful Impact

How CEOs Can Use Introvert Strengths to Get ResultsA business leader need not act like Indiana’s Bobby Knight to be the ultimate influencer, communicate his vision and inspire people to get on board. In fact, the opposite may be true. Often introverted leaders exercise their quiet influence in ways that prompt new ways of thinking, challenge the status quo and inspire others to move forward. Here’s how some CEOs have borrowed from the introvert’s playbook to elevate their effectiveness.

There are many ways one can be effective as a leader. Smart CEOs know that they are most transparent and trustworthy when they lead from their own natural strengths. For introverts, those strengths may be quieter, more measured and less obvious, but they will be no less effective. Contrary to popular opinion, it’s not always the loudest voice in the room that gets results.

Doug Conant, former president and CEO of Campbell Soup Company and CEO, Conant Leadership, builds trust and open communication with his teams by being honest about his own way of getting things done. He uses two strengths common to introverted leaders – preparation and focused conversations. “I came out of the closet in my beliefs…I have this belief that it’s very important for a leader, particularly an introvert, to declare themselves. It took me a long time to realize the obvious; that people were not mind readers and because I was quiet and sort of introverted they didn’t know how I thought or felt,” he said.

Doug developed a best practice called “a DRC (after his initials, Douglas R. Conant) conversation.” Using preparation, he gathers necessary facts and knowledge and explores resistance points to create a document that lays out his beliefs, how he likes to run the company and his perspective on how the industry works. Then he walks each new team member through it.

This focused conversation—a purpose-driven dialogue that leads to problem-solving, selling ideas and working through conflict—is open and honest. In his dialogue, Doug doesn’t exclude personal information like his values, favorite books or quotes. In one thoughtful conversation, he eliminates the guesswork in getting to know him and keeps himself accountable. He tells new hires, “If I behave consistently with this, then I guess you can trust me. If I don’t, I guess you can’t, but at least you will know.”

Preparation and focused conversations get results for Conant, but other “quiet influencers,” as I call “introverted leaders” in my book, “Quiet Influence: The Introvert’s Guide to Making a Difference” have also achieved tremendous results by relying on four other common strengths.

They regularly take quiet time to think, recharge their batteries, boost energy and foster creativity.

They use engaged listening to build rapport, mutual understanding, and trust with their co-workers.

Because talking isn’t always their strong point, writing becomes a way to find clarity about their own positions and articulate authentic, well-developed positions to others.

Some develop a thoughtful use of social media to propel their ideas and reach a previously untapped, broader and global audience.

Engaged listening has become a hallmark trait of Sandy Parillo, CEO of The Providence Mutual Insurance Company. She had not recognized the importance of engaged listening until a coworker pointed out its value. She encourages co-workers to come to her with their ideas and solutions. Her response is “to ask them additional questions, offer alternatives for consideration, give them the benefit of my experience and offer support for their decision,” said Parillo.

After one such conversation, an employee told Parillo that he knew she probably had a hundred things going on, but that during their time together, he felt that she was entirely focused on the topic and gave him full attention. It was a light-bulb moment. Something she did naturally—listening closely and giving thoughtful feedback—added value to the company and both parties.

“I am truly humbled that people want to ‘run this by me’,” she said. She knows that they value her attention, her advice and her encouragement in their own management decisions. “The key is to challenge people appropriately and support them accordingly,” said Parillo.

Writing was the go-to strength for Ronnie Wilkins, executive director of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology when he wanted to launch a new non-profit organization. It would align with and enhance his organization’s scientific mission by providing association management services. Ronnie knew the need was there was there, but it meant selling the board on creating an additional new company. He prepared a carefully outlined memo, finding it easier to have conversations and answer questions once people had a chance to consider his proposal carefully. Within three months the new company, Parthenon, was up and running. It has helped retention of employees by providing new career opportunities and it has exceeded all performance expectations.

More CEOs are borrowing plays from the introverted playbook. They find these quiet strengths to be powerful and that they directly relate to highly-desired soft skills so in-demand in today’s workforce: the ability to communicate clearly, think critically and collaborate to build trust and strong teams. As these examples show, “quiet influence” can be a powerful way of making your case and leading your company forward.

This post is taken from an article I wrote for Chief Executive which appeared on Oct. 27, 2013.