HOW EXTROVERT AND INTROVERT LEADERS CAN THRIVE IN STEM CAREERS

Developing the leadership skills you need and learning how to adapt your leadership style.

STEM career

Jul 11 2019

According to a report by The Sutton Trust, extroverted workers are 25% more likely to be in a high-earning job. What does that mean for introverts and how do they succeed as leaders in healthcare, where many roles are considered comfort zones for introverts?

The good news is that while many of us that consider ourselves introverts, we actually fall in the spectrum of both of these personality traits. It’s a matter of pulling key qualities of both personalities out when it’s needed to make a successful career.

For Lauren Seaver, director of assay development at Abbott and self-described introvert, developing extroverted qualities was necessary as she moved into more senior roles.

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The same was true for Tik Rana, a senior systems development manager in Abbott diagnostics. In his current role, Rana manages approximately 30 people with a mix of engineering and science backgrounds, and he also interacts with manufacturers around the world.

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For both Seaver and Rana, developing new skills was essential to moving into leadership positions — but it wasn't always comfortable.

Getting Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable

When Seaver began her undergraduate education at the University of Illinois, she decided to rush a sorority. "The more you push pass self-imposed boundaries, the more comfortable you become," she explains. "It's the best thing I ever did. I forced myself to have casual conversations that I normally wouldn't have."

That skill came in handy when Seaver first interviewed at Abbott for a senior technical support scientist role in 2004 and had to face speed dating-style interviews. "There's nothing more similar to that than rush," she laughs.

Developing Extrovert Qualities

Extroverts think, act and respond quickly, which can be productive in certain workplace situations. Instead of pushing yourself to make a snap decision, Rana recommends introverts develop observational skills. "Every meeting, every project is an opportunity to interact with others," he says. "Even if you're not saying anything, pay attention to body language and each person's perspective. That will help you to understand where everyone comes from. This helps you relate better, have better conversations and get to better decisions."

Research by the Center for Talent Innovation shows there are a few key traits that successful women in STEM share. One of these traits is networking to have peers that support your ideas. "You have to put yourself out there to get exposure," Seaver says. "You have to get comfortable talking about yourself."

For Seaver, that meant taking advantage of classes at Abbott designed to help her become comfortable with uncomfortable tasks. "You need to acknowledge what causes you anxiety," she says. "Those classes gave me the confidence to know what I had to deliver was worth people listening to."

Developing Introvert Qualities

Unlike extroverts who are energized being around other people, many introverts are energized from alone time.

"Introverts, in conversation or collaboration, need time to process," explains Seaver. "If you recognize that, you can bring everyone along with you." By learning to listen and elicit feedback, you can open yourself up to new ideas, implement suggestions and make others feel valuable. A group decision is made with everyone's input. "You have to understand the personalities of all those in the room, as they are also decision-makers, to get the consensus correct," Seaver says.

Introverts are also known for digging deep into topics with great attention to detail. "Scientists, engineers — they like all the data," Seaver says. "They want to understand all inputs." Extroverts may need to develop additional focus to provide the information their team needs to make a decision.

Bridging Personalities

According to a UIC Business study, organizations benefit from 6% better job performance and a 50% increase in employee retention when leaders practice servant leadership. Rana and Seaver do this by adapting their leadership styles based on their employees.

There are a few areas where you can implement this type of leadership — meetings, brainstorming and one-on-one sessions.

When it comes to meetings, Rana recommends implementing structures such as anonymously writing ideas on sticky notes and reviewing together, so that all ideas come to the table.

Brainstorming, a common reason for group meetings, actually decreases the number and originality of ideas by 20%. Instead, ask people to come up with suggestions before you come together. Rana notes that this also helps extroverts slow down. "Giving extroverts tasks and projects that require them to dig into a particular subject forces them to focus inward," he says.

Sometimes, a formal one-on-one meeting is the best way to give coaching and feedback. "Extroverts want that direct feedback," observes Rana, sharing that sometimes pulling them aside and telling them to listen to other perspectives is the most effective. One-on-ones also allow introverts to prep before a meeting or practice a presentation.

Both Rana and Seaver believe that introverts can — and do — succeed in extrovert jobs and the other way around, as well. "A passion for science is what matters," Seaver emphasizes. "Then, it's knowing yourself. An introvert needs to be open to relaying their ideas and receiving feedback. An extrovert needs to understand that in order to convince introverts of your idea, you need data behind it."

"It's all a balancing act," Seaver says. "Look out for areas you're not the strongest in and constantly find opportunities to strengthen those."

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