Why being quiet shouldn’t stop your career progress

Just because you aren’t as bombastic as your colleagues doesn’t mean you don’t have what it takes to succeed, says Megumi Miki.

When 200 quieter professional women were surveyed on whether they felt like they have to be extroverted to progress in their careers, 91 percent chose ‘often’ or ‘sometimes’. It is common for professionals—both women and men—to feel like they need to be outspoken and confident-looking to be heard, taken seriously and succeed.

Many people fear that being quiet might stall their careers, or that they have to pretend to be someone they are not. Here are three reasons why being quiet is not detrimental to progressing your career, rather, it can be an advantage.

Successful quietly powerful leaders exist

Warren Buffet, Angela Merkel and Mahatma Gandhi are well-known examples of successful leaders who used their quiet nature as their leadership strength. Whether it is in the commercial, political or social context, their calm presence, humility, deep listening and reflective approach have allowed them to lead and have enormous impact. If you pay close attention, you will see quiet leaders closer to home. You may not notice them as much as the more outspoken leaders, because they do not try to attract attention for the sake of it. They may not be the majority but are highly successful and many people love working for them.

The value of a quieter approach to leadership

Hal Gregersen, Executive Director of MIT’s Leadership Center, explained in ‘Being Quiet Is Part of Being a Good CEO’ how easily leaders stop listening, become insulated from information they need and how this can lead to a plethora of unexpected problems. Leaders who use a quieter approach make more informed decisions.

Wharton University’s organisational psychology professor Adam Grant, along with co-authors, shared a study showing that, “When employees are proactive, introverted managers lead them to earn higher profits.” Quieter leaders create the space that allows teams to be proactive.

Quiet professionals hold themselves back

Many quiet professionals believe they will not be promoted because they are naturally quiet. This belief unfortunately stems from internalising what parents, teachers, social norms have told them. Being told to ‘speak up more’ and ‘be more confident’ as a child or younger person embeds a belief that she is not good enough or as good as her more outgoing peers.

However in some ways, this is good news. If you are the one holding yourself back, you have control because you can learn how to manage your inner voices that hold you back.

Strategies to succeed as a quiet professional

The key to succeeding as a quiet professional is to develop your precious qualities that you or others may deem as not being valuable, such as being naturally quiet, rather than replace or marginalise them. It’s this combination of predispositions and the additional qualities and skills that enable you to succeed without pretending to be someone you are not.

To do so you must first appreciate yourself fully—both strengths and weaknesses—and reframe the story you tell yourself so that the inner critics do not take over. With a greater appreciation of yourself, you can develop additional skills and learn behaviours that are important to achieving goals. You are then adding skills and behaviours, not fixing, replacing or pretending.

You can also actively find organisations and leaders who value quiet achievers and quieter approaches to leadership. They do exist and will often go out of their way to encourage, support and promote talented quiet professionals. These organisations and leaders attract highly talented people who may feel neglected elsewhere.

If you thought your quiet nature would hold you back or believed you needed to fake it till you make it, think again. It is time for quiet professionals to step up as we need more ‘quietly powerful’ leaders in organisations to achieve more balanced approaches to leadership.

Megumi Miki is a leadership and culture specialist and founder of Quietly Powerful. Megumi helps individuals, leaders and organisations to unlock their hidden potential. She is the Author of Quietly Powerful: How your quiet nature is your hidden leadership strength and Start Inspiring, Stop Driving: Unlock your team’s potential to outperform and grow.