Dharmesh Shah is a self-professed lifelong introvert.
Shah, co-founder of software company HubSpot in Cambridge, Mass., is quieter than most. He doesn't take phone calls, avoids networking in the traditional sense and goes somewhere quiet to "recharge" after social gatherings.
He also has a keen ability to empathize. He can observe what motivates his employees, what makes them happy and what makes them successful in order to craft a positive company culture.
Shah was one of several "quiet men" discussed by Jennifer Kahnweiler, a speaker and author, and Ed Frauenheim, co-founder of San Francisco-based consultation firm The Teal Team, in their June 14 concurrent session, "Quiet Men: Tapping Male Introverts' Superpowers," at the SHRM Annual Conference & Expo 2022 in New Orleans.
"Some people think an introverted leader is an oxymoron," said Kahnweiler, author of Creating Introvert-Friendly Workplaces: How to Unleash Everyone's Talent and Performance (Berrett-Koehler, 2020). "How can you be a leader and be quiet? But some very successful people have been quiet men."
Kahnweiler said famous, successful figures who fit the label include late TV personality Fred Rogers, Apple CEO Tim Cook and former President Barack Obama, each of whom leveraged their introversion and calm demeanors to change the world.
Why Now Is the Time for Quiet Men
Quiet men are introverted males who draw strength from solitude. They have been historically undervalued, marginalized and even shamed for their introversion by Type A, more-aggressive male leaders.
Some challenges quiet men have faced in the workplace include:
- Being seen as passive.
- Having their ideas overlooked.
- Underselling themselves.
- Being exhausted by "man rules."
But Frauenheim, co-author of Reinventing Masculinity: The Liberating Power of Compassion and Connection (Berrett-Koehler, 2020), said introverted men are uniquely suited to today's faster, fairness-focused business climate. For example, the emergence of the #MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements have placed a greater emphasis on equality and diversity in the workplace.
"Men, especially white men, are [being] asked to listen more than speak," Frauenheim said. "They're asked to have power with others, not over others. Quiet men are better equipped to do this than extroverted men."
Additionally, as the COVID-19 pandemic has led to increased mental health problems worldwide, introverted individuals have experienced growing success and appreciation for their ability to:
- Build relationships.
- Advocate for others.
- Stay calm.
- Listen with engagement.
- Think deeply about problems or situations.
"Quiet men are good at advocating for others," Kahnweiler added. "They check in with people about their lives."
Frauenheim noted that extroverted men have their own set of strengths, including the ability to forge connections with large numbers of people. But he noted that "the time now calls for a more balanced male that doesn't fit into that Type A personality."
How Organizations Can Support Quiet Men
Kahnweiler and Frauenheim said being introverted doesn't necessarily mean someone is being cold or distant. Instead of judging introverted employees, business leaders and HR professionals should show support and avoid shaming them for their dispositions.
Managers should consider:
- Starting conversations with these workers.
- Spotlighting quiet leaders.
- Sponsoring employee resource groups for quiet employees.
- Creating designated quiet spaces.
It could also be helpful to incorporate periodic quiet times for employees, particularly workers who are introverted, Kahnweiler said. Taking breaks to recharge their internal batteries can support the mental health of quiet people and improve their performance.
"If we can amplify voices of quiet men and utilize their talents," Kahnweiler explained, "then we are helping organizations and we are making a difference in the world."