When I was studying psychology in school, our instructor asked us to raise our hands if we were introverts. When we looked around the room, less than half of the class had done so. The kicker, our instructor went on to explain, is that introverts were unlikely to raise their hands at all because they did not want to call attention to themselves. According to C-Suite Network, 40% of adults in the U.S. are introverts. Someone who is introverted tends to be more shy and less likely to speak up in new situations. As a result, extreme introversion can hinder a person’s career advancement deeply. However, C-Suite Network reports that 70% of CEOs classify themselves as introverts. So how exactly do these CEOs overcome shyness and introversion to become successful leaders?

How Shyness can Affect You in the Workplace

Shy entrepreneur covering his face
Shy entrepreneur covering his face

Shyness can lead to difficulty maintaining eye contact while holding conversations with others. Failure to do so can ruin your chances of being considered for leadership positions when they become available within a company. Additionally, if you are hoping to launch your own business one day, angel investors are not going to want to invest money into someone who does not seem confident in themselves.

The pressure to overcome shyness can also lead to other physical and mental predicaments. If an introvert is placed in a situation where they have to speak publically, the anxiety of making a mistake can cause someone to blush or stutter. While everyone can understandably be nervous before a meeting or big presentation, hiding severe blushing or stuttering is a bit more difficult, which can cause introverts to dread public speaking even more.

However, introverts working remotely due to the pandemic are somewhat being relieved of the burden of public speaking. The switch to phone and video calls as primary means of communication adds a barrier for those who hate talking in person. Phone calls in particular keep us from wondering what people think about what we said or how we said it if we cannot study their facial expressions. We are also using messenger apps like Slack to exchange quick bits of information and really think about how to respond. Now people who have a hard time thinking on their feet can take their time and write out eloquent responses. During meetings, it may feel difficult to find a break in conversations to jump in and share your ideas. But with chat boxes, everyone’s opinion can be acknowledged and no one is talked over.

Can You be Shy and Still be a Leader?

Entrepreneur leading team by hand through field at sunset
Entrepreneur leading team by hand through field at sunset

It’s important to understand that public speaking is not the most crucial aspect of being a successful leader. There are plenty of people who can express themselves exceptionally verbally, but have poor writing skills. So why should people who are great at communicating through writing be criticized for public speaking? The ideal leader is a master of both written and verbal communication, but even the most successful entrepreneurs have assistants that handle correspondence for them. So messenger apps like Slack are really leveling the playing field for those who can’t quite crack public speaking.

C-Suite Network claims that big CEOs like Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, and Brenda Barnes all identify as introverts. They point out that working alone is usually what allows an individual to be stronger creatively. Essentially, more work gets done when there are less distractions. When these CEOs need to collaborate, they have a close knit of friends to confide in who can then delegate out tasks to others within their organization. So if you want to be the leader of your own organization, but cannot handle public speaking, you can have someone in your network who handles the speeches while you take care of business.

So what happens when you are in a leadership role and absolutely have to make a presentation or take charge of an important meeting? Then it may be time to try overcoming shyness.

Overcoming Shyness as a Leader

Confident leader giving presentation in board meeting
Confident leader giving presentation in board meeting

According to clinical psychologist Alice Boyes, shyness is a manifestation of social anxiety that usually begins at childhood. She states that while we can get by using coping mechanisms like only communicating via chat messages or bringing people we know to networking events so we don’t have to talk to anyone new, the best way to actually overcome shyness is exposure.

Boyes suggests keeping a list of situations that cause you social anxiety, such as giving presentations or pitching to angel investors, and writing down how those situations make you feel on a scale of 1 to 10. Start by exposing yourself to situations near the bottom of the list and working your way up until you feel you have mastered each one. She also cautions that over preparing and perfectionism can worsen social anxiety. For instance, if you obsess over not making a mistake, the chances of you making a mistake are much higher.

Unfortunately, Boyes states that women tend to suffer more from perfectionism due to the stereotype of leaders being bold, loud, and articulate men. Women are also judged on how eloquently they speak rather than for the quality of their ideas. When women pick up on this need to be perfect, it makes it all the more difficult to perceive themselves as capable leaders. Boyes says the key is to overcome the shame that comes from being anxious. If you blush or stutter, take a moment to acknowledge it and even say to the person you are speaking to that this is something that happens and you might want to slow the conversation down.

Usually anxiety is caused by the underlying thought of how well we hide our anxiety or shyness, or how good we are at getting ourselves to do things that are out of our comfort zones. Boyes says it’s important to re-conceptualize our thought process and remember our strengths and how well we use them. In the end, the trick isn’t overcoming anxiety. It’s overcoming the stigma of having anxiety in the first place.

Have any more tips for overcoming shyness as a leader? Let us know down in the comments.

This article originally published on GREY Journal.