When we think of leaders, we automatically think of them as charismatic, talkative, and extremely extroverted. But is that true? What about the leaders who aren’t so obvious — who operate in a quieter way?
Today’s guest tells us about leaders who are “quietly powerful,” who lead by giving the spotlight to others, and who listen and engage in a conscious manner with their subordinates. How do these people do it? Is it something anyone can learn?
Listen as the author of “Quietly Powerful: How Your Quiet Nature Is Your Hidden Leadership Strength,”answers these questions and tells us more about introversion and extroversion.
Megumi Miki is an author, speaker, and consultant in leadership, culture, diversity, and inclusion, with a background in strategy, economics, and finance. She’s the author of “Quietly Powerful: How Your Quiet Nature Is Your Hidden Leadership Strength” which received the Best Leadership Book of 2020 by the Australian Business Book Awards and Australian Career Book for 2020 by RSA Oceania.
Megumi’s work has helped people develop a quietly powerful presence to lead authentically, be heard, and have impact. Her ideas and approach have resonated with many (not just introverts) wanting to develop a calm, inner strength to make the unique contribution they were born to make.
Gabe Howard is an award-winning writer and speaker who lives with bipolar disorder. He is the author of the popular book, Mental Illness is an Asshole and other Observations, available from Amazon; signed copies are also available directly from the author.
To learn more about Gabe, please visit his website, gabehoward.com.
Producer’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript has been computer generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammar errors. Thank you.
Announcer: You’re listening to Inside Mental Health: A Psych Central Podcast where experts share experiences and the latest thinking on mental health and psychology. Here’s your host, Gabe Howard.
Gabe Howard: Welcome to this week’s episode of Inside Mental Health, formerly The Psych Central Podcast, I’m your host Gabe Howard, and I want to thank our sponsor. Better Help. You can save 10 percent and get a week free by visiting BetterHelp.com/PsychCentral.
Calling into the show today we have Megumi Miki. Megumi is an author, speaker and consultant in leadership, culture, diversity and inclusion. She helps leaders and organizations unlock their hidden talents. She’s also the author of Quietly Powerful: How Your Quiet Nature Is Your Hidden Leadership Strength. Megumi, welcome to the show.
Megumi Miki: Thank you so much, Gabe.
Gabe Howard: You know, I am an extrovert. I once took one of those personality tests and the administrator made me take the test again because I scored so high on the extrovert portion that they thought there was a mistake. All this to say.
Megumi Miki: Oh, my God.
Megumi Miki: I know. All of this is to say I don’t understand introversion very well at all, but I do know that society believes that introverts don’t make good leaders. But your research, your book and your life disputes this in a very big way. What made you look into this subject? Are you an introvert?
Megumi Miki: I am. I’m not an extreme introvert, I didn’t get to take the test again like you did, so I wasn’t off the chart. But I am a little quieter. I’d say I’m more on the edge of that side. I do like spending time on my own. But the reason why I started it was because for me personally, I grew up as a quieter child and my parents were Japanese and I was brought up in Japan when I was younger, and I was often called this name [Untranslated] in Japanese, which means mild and meek and quiet. But it also actually means adult-like in literal terms. So I never thought of it as a bad thing. I just grew up saying, well, I’m just [Untranslated], I’m quiet. But as I grew up going to school, I went to different schools in three or four different countries and I found myself being quiet just to fit in and not sort of stand out, which was helpful. But then as I went into my career, it became a bit of a challenge because people kept telling me to speak up more and so on. And I had to pretend to be a little different to what I usually am. So I had my challenges and I decided I needed to do something. And as part of that, I started to research people who are naturally quiet and who have been successful. And these are the quietly powerful leaders that I spoke to for the book. And I found that they had incredible powers, if you like, or leadership strengths that happened to be of a quieter nature. And I thought, wow, that’s actually useful to use these. And so I started experimenting with them as well and found that they are amazing leadership strengths that perhaps we’re underutilizing and undervaluing.
Gabe Howard: One of the things that I think is so fascinating is let’s look at politics, we almost exclusively elect loud politicians. You know, they’re loud, they’re charismatic. And in fact, I remember we had a presidential candidate who ran a few years back. And one of the things that they said about them was a detriment is that they weren’t very charismatic, as if being charismatic allows you to run a country or be good at anything. Why do you think people tie extroversion, charisma, the ability to draw a crowd and arguably loudness with a skill set to be a good leader?
Megumi Miki: In a way we get sucked into the energy and I’m sure some of your listeners might have come across the awestruck effect where we see somebody who is charismatic and we are in awe. But unfortunately, when we’re in that state, we don’t think rationally necessarily. So we listen to these words that perhaps don’t even make sense or don’t have much substance. And we go, wow, and we get sucked in.
Gabe Howard: Now, in your book, Quietly Powerful, you talk about the leadership skills and how being quiet or introverted is actually an advantage?
Megumi Miki: It’s not just about introversion, because there are people who are quieter for other reasons as well. And I know of extroverts who use quiet powers effectively. Also in terms of the quietly powerful leaders, some of the things that I found where they use these quiet super powers, such as listening, such as observing, letting other people take the space and step into leadership so they don’t hoard the power or the leadership space, if you like. There’s something really powerful about leaders who allow others to shine as well. What I found of these quietly powerful leaders, something that surprised me is that quite a number of them said that they never thought of themselves as leaders. The only reason why they jumped into a leadership position was more because they saw a way that they could contribute with their unique talents. And so they went in with a greater purpose in mind, as opposed to wanting the power or the control or the attention. And you can probably see that because a lot of people don’t particularly like being the center of attention, and I find that very, very powerful. So I talk about in the book one of the attributes of a quietly powerful leader being purposeful.
Megumi Miki: So they’re not stepping into leadership positions willy nilly. They step into it for a reason. But the other two attributes that I found which helps with this, is that they are very comfortable in their own skin. So they don’t tend to worry too much about their weaknesses. They just say that they surround themselves with people who can cover for their weaknesses and they share it and they ask for help and they are quite happy to be vulnerable in front of others as needed. And that makes them very authentic. And people are very drawn to that kind of approach. And the second thing as a result of that is that they are very present because they’re not so concerned about how they might come across and they are very comfortable with themselves. That can be very present with other people. When you’re sitting with somebody who is very present, I’m sure you’ve had this experience, Gabe, where you know that they’re there for you. You can really feel that as opposed to somebody who’s perhaps worried about other things or distracted, you can really tell that they’re present and that builds great relationships that end up with trust as a leader. That’s another powerful attribute that quietly powerful leaders seem to have. Those three being comfortable, being present and being purposeful to me, really showed very strongly in those leaders that I interviewed.
Gabe Howard: Are those qualities that you just mentioned missing from people who are extroverted, or are they just more exacerbated in people who are introverted? Or am I just completely off the mark? And these are just qualities that maybe are cultivated more by introverts, but anybody can learn them?
Megumi Miki: I think it’s the last one. So anybody can learn them, but I think what’s important is to start to value some of those quieter attributes. As I mentioned earlier, to me, it’s not about introvert, extrovert necessarily, but introverts may have the opportunity to develop these a little bit further, more naturally, if you like, because of their quieter nature. Also extroverts, as I said, I know extroverts who are absolutely comfortable and present and purposeful and use some of those quiet skills like listening and observing and engaging with others to give them space. Some of my extrovert colleagues who do that, they say it takes them conscious effort to close their mouth, create space and so on. While as the quieter people may naturally do that more, being quiet doesn’t necessarily equate to quietly powerful. Quieter people can be disempowered because of their quieter nature. And I think that’s where I wanted to distinguish in the book where you can become quietly powerful. But if you just remain quiet and you’re quiet or out of fear or out of lack of awareness or things like that, you can remain quietly disempowered.
Gabe Howard: Can you explain the title of your book, Quietly Powerful?
Megumi Miki: One of the reasons why I came up with quietly powerful is because if you really think about it, I’m sure you’ve come across people and leaders who may not say a lot, but when they do, everybody listens. And they’re very wise and they’re very insightful. But I think we don’t think of that because we have this image of power as being the dominant, powering over. So what I’m starting to explore is a different kind of power, rather than powering over its power with others. They are powerful within themselves. They don’t necessarily have to show it on the outside, but they are so comfortable with themselves and feeling powerful within themselves that they’re happy to share it. And they’re encouraging others to become more powerful in that way as well. More of an inner power.
Gabe Howard: I tend to think that quiet and introversion are the same thing. Is that the case?
Megumi Miki: Not necessarily because there are loud introverts and there are quieter extroverts, but I think we do tend to use extroversion and introversion as the marker for being quiet or loud. I started the work thinking about introverts, but actually as I did the work, I discovered more. And what I discovered is that sometimes they are quietly disempowered, if you like, because they have high emotionality or high neuroticism. And so they may be quite social and they’re quite chatty in a comfortable setting, but perhaps in a work setting, maybe they get anxious or there’s some senior people in the room and they don’t speak up. So that might be a reason why they seem to be quieter or they feel a little disempowered. There’s also highly sensitive people who can be extroverts, but they can go quiet sometimes because they’re overloaded. The other thing is upbringing and conditioning, if you like. As I said, I have a Japanese background and there’s some conditioning there that I’ve noticed. For example, don’t brag. That’s a big thing.
Megumi Miki: You don’t brag about yourself. You don’t talk about the achievements and things like that. So, self-promotion is a very difficult thing for me. I’ve had to overcome that at times to be able to share some of the messages that I have. There’s also speaking up when there’s a senior person in the room. That can be challenging for some people with some upbringing because they’ve been taught not to speak when there’s authority in the room, most definitely not speak against authority. So there’s conditioning. And then there’s also the power dynamics where in a room full of people, there’s always some kind of power dynamic where some people feel more powerful, other people don’t. And it could be hierarchy, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be. So the other side might feel a little bit disempowered or it might be that you have an idea that everybody else disagrees with or everybody else has a different view. Then it becomes very difficult for that one person to bring in that voice. So I think there’s lots and lots of other reasons for being quieter, particularly quietly disempowered. So I think we can’t assume that somebody who’s quiet is an introvert.
Gabe Howard: We’ll be right back after these messages.
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Gabe Howard: And we’re back with Megumi Miki discussing her book Quietly Powerful: How your quiet nature is your hidden leadership strength. You know, again, I’m the loud, extroverted guy. I really do enjoy being the center of attention. I want to confess that that’s absolutely true. But I like to think that I have substance. I like to think that I bring something to the table and I really, really work hard not to overpower anybody. Do you think that one of the reasons that introverts get a bad rap or that quiet people get a bad rap is because people like me, extroverts, don’t want to take responsibility for sucking all of the air out of the room by not shutting up? So we just blame introverts and then move on?
Megumi Miki: I didn’t specifically research extroverts, so I can’t say I’ve uncovered that in a very clear way, but I do remember one of the leaders that I interviewed, he was a military leader who was an ex rear admiral at the Australian Navy. And so you’d think that there’d be quite a dominant kind of character, but he wasn’t. And so he was an amazing leader. And somebody asked the question to him about, so what would you say to the extroverts, the people who are louder? And his answer was, just zip it and shut up. And so I think there’s some of the leaders would say that perhaps if the louder people could listen a little bit better, that would make for a better conversation and better meetings and so on so that more people can have the space to contribute. But there are plenty of extroverts who do. And I have lots of colleagues and friends who do as well. So I’m not, definitely not, a blanket statement saying that extroverts need to shut up and listen.
Gabe Howard: I do appreciate you being honest about both sides and being kind. I know that I did realize as the extrovert on the show, I thought that people weren’t speaking because they just didn’t want to, because I think of my own personality and I’m willing to jump in. I’m willing to talk over people. I come from a very loud family where if you don’t just start talking, you’re never going to get a turn. And I just assumed that everybody else was that way as well. So I was glad to learn that other people wait for an opportunity. They wait for an opening, because that gave me an opportunity to create that opening. And I often wonder if my fellow extroverts are assuming that people are quiet by choice rather than us extroverts just won’t, as you said, zip it.
Megumi Miki: Quite possibly, but I think it varies too. Sometimes people do stay quiet by choice and other times people have something to say, they just can’t get in. So there’s a bit of a range in terms of why people might be quiet. And I think the key thing is what you said, is not assume.
Gabe Howard: Now, you interviewed real leaders for the book, real quietly powerful leaders, and my first question is, how did you find them? I mean, if they’re not bombastic, if they’re not, you know, standing around yelling that they’re out there, aren’t they kind of hidden? And again, I’m seeing things very much from the perspective of an extrovert. And all I can think of is if somebody is not speaking, how do you know they’re there?
Megumi Miki: They may not speak a lot, but when it matters, they do. I think that’s the difference. And of course, when they’re senior leaders, they do have to speak in public. And so you do see them. But I think the hidden part of it is that sometimes people don’t even realize that they naturally quiet. So how I found them, one is that I knew a few of them. And of course, me being a naturally quieter person, I spot them a bit more probably. So I knew a few of them and they were successful CIOs, CEOs. And I thought, oh, I will just tap them on the shoulder. And if they would be happy to talk to me, they would. From there, I asked them, do you know anybody else who’s a bit like that? And they introduced me to a few people. And it’s been amazing to meet them.
Gabe Howard: Were there any surprises during your interviews or did everything pretty much go as you thought it would?
Megumi Miki: I think the surprises were some of these leaders saying, I don’t know if I really thought of myself as a leader. I never really thought of going into leadership positions. So that was a bit of a surprise because I thought even though they’re quiet, I thought they might be a little bit more ambitious. But not all of them were. A few of them when I interviewed them, they were openly sharing how uncomfortable they were about talking about themselves. So I had the image of senior leaders not being as open and vulnerable when recorded, but some of them were quite happy to do so. To me, that showed that they were comfortable being uncomfortable and openly so. So that was a surprise and a pleasant surprise.
Gabe Howard: We’ve talked about quietly powerful leaders, let’s transition over to people who are quiet, that want to become leaders. What advice do you have for the introverts, the quiet people, the people who feel that they don’t fit the stereotypical leadership mold but want to be leaders?
Megumi Miki: There is this societal message that says if you’re quiet, you’re not leader-like. But that’s the societal voice. And we have to be able to reframe that so that we can see that quieter attributes can be powerful. So firstly, understand yourself fully so that you know what you’re working with, but then start to reframe and I often share with people how you can reframe some of what you think are weaknesses. Sometimes they can be strengths, the nature of quiet being one of them. I even share some of my other reframes that I’ve done for myself. Like I mentioned to you earlier, that I have a Japanese background and I’ve got an Australian accent. So I’ve lived in Australia for a long time. But as a child, I was in Japan and so I lack a bit of vocabulary and I always thought, I’m never going to be a great communicator or a writer. I never thought I’d write a book or anything like that. But after a little while of speaking and writing, people said to me, Megumi, you really write and speak clearly. And I thought, gosh, that’s because I don’t have vocabulary. I don’t use very difficult words. I don’t know them. I share that to people and say, you can say lack of vocabulary is a weakness, but you could reframe it and use it to your advantage as a strength.
Megumi Miki: So I share with people about how you can reframe. Also, I talk to people about how you can deal with some of those critics and inner voices that hold you back. Often quiet people have a lot going on in their heads. And so I help people to work with that rather than trying to ignore it or squash it, because they tend to drive your behavior. So that’s the appreciating oneself a bit more. And the second part is to adapt purposefully. Quietly powerful leaders do public speaking, for example. So it’s not like you can’t. It’s a skill that you can develop. And they do that because they know as a senior leader, they do need to connect with people in a big group. And so they have to do public speaking. So they do it for a purpose. And so they have adapted purposefully. So I encourage people to find skills and skills that they can develop for a purpose and learn it in a way that works so that they can really flourish in a way that they still feel authentic.
Gabe Howard: Now let’s transition a little further and talk about the people who hire leaders, hiring managers, boards, other leaders, they tend to look for people who are like them. And this space is dominated by the extrovert. It’s dominated by the unquiet, for lack of a better word. What message do you have for them so that they understand that quietly powerful people are a real asset to their companies, their communities and their organizations?
Megumi Miki: My advice to organizations is really to look for these quietly powerful leaders rather than allowing them to pop up because they often don’t necessarily self promote as much as some of the more non-quiet people, as you call it, do. So you may have to look for them, but also that when you are interviewing them, not necessarily look for the style only, look for the substance. So you might have to ask a few more questions to really get to the substance of what they’re about. And then you really find the gold. I think there’s a little bit extra work to do. But remember this whole cognitive bias that we have, that, as we talked about earlier, this awestruck effect that you might be sucked into some of those people who perhaps have the gift of the gab or maybe come across as charismatic. So, remember that appearing confident doesn’t always equal really confident, or competent, for that matter. Perhaps you might have come across Dr. Thomas Chamorro-Premuzic’s work where he talks about why so many incompetent men become leaders. That’s his book. He talks about this tendency to look for the confident leader. But that’s not necessarily the competent leader. It’s prudent for organizations to be a little bit more cautious on that and look for the substance.
Gabe Howard: I could not agree more. I’ve really learned in the last five years of doing this program that I know so little. I started the podcast because I knew so much about mental health and psychology and I wanted to get it out into the world. And after a year, I realized, yeah, I haven’t even scratched the surface. I should not be surprised to learn that gregarious people are not the only people who can be leaders. But I want to be frank and honest with you, I really saw introversion as a detriment, and I believe that most of society does as well. Is there a reason for that? Because it’s clearly not the case. One just needs to look around a little bit to prove that false. But this myth of the introvert not being a good leader persists.
Megumi Miki: Yeah, so I think it’s back to this some of our biases and how we can get sucked in. I think we can start to shift that though if we start to pay attention a little bit more and possibly because we have attention deficit, if you like. Maybe that’s also contributing to it as well, that you only noticed the louder voices because our brains are so hard wired to shortcut. So if we spent a little bit more time and space to really look. And I think organizations really will benefit from that to look for those with substance. And of course, there are louder people with substance. I’m not saying that they don’t, but there are people who perhaps aren’t in your face and still have a great deal to contribute.
Gabe Howard: Megumi, thank you so much, I have learned an incredible amount, and I know there’s a lot more to learn. I wish the show was longer. Now your book Quietly Powerful: How Your Quiet Nature Is Your Hidden Leadership Strength. Where can folks find you and your book?
Megumi Miki: So I do have a website called QuietlyPowerful.com.au that I use. I am based in Australia, so it’s an au website and the book link is in there as well. There’s a whole bunch of other things that I’ve posted, including some of the short clips of the quietly powerful leader interviews. I really love sharing that because these quietly powerful leaders don’t tend to self-promote, as you would expect. I really want to showcase them and say these people do exist and they’re incredibly powerful and amazing leaders.
Gabe Howard: Well, awesome, everybody, please check that out at QuietlyPowerful.com.au. Don’t forget the dot A U.
Megumi Miki: That’s it. And by the way, you do create the space. I noticed that. I’d answer and then you are silent for a little while before you speak. And you don’t interrupt.
Gabe Howard: You know, I, it is sincere, I’m again, I’m a very loud guy, I’m a very big guy as well. I’m six foot three, so that even makes it worse. And my family is, we’re just a very loud family. And for a while when I got out in the real world, I assumed that the reason people weren’t talking is simply because they didn’t want to. And I was very embarrassed when I learned that people were like, we can’t get a word in edgewise around Gabe. And I thought to myself, well, that’s not true. Like at first, I was like, well, that’s your fault for not speaking up. But the reality is, is it can be two things, right? It can be their fault for not speaking up and it can be my fault for not shutting up. And working together. I really feel like I’ve learned a lot more and made people more comfortable.
Megumi Miki: Yeah, no, that’s great, because I think it’s some responsibility on both sides, as you say.
Gabe Howard: I could not agree more. Thank you so much, Megumi, we really appreciate you and we appreciate all of our listeners, we literally couldn’t do this show without you, so you can help me out in a very profound way by subscribing to this podcast. Wherever you downloaded it, share us on social media or write us a review using words so other people know why they should listen. My name is Gabe Howard and I’m the author of Mental Illness Is an Asshole and Other Observations. I’m also a nationally recognized public speaker. Wouldn’t it be really cool to have me or a live podcast recording at your next event? You can grab a signed copy of my book with free swag or learn more about me over at gabehoward.com. I will see everybody next Thursday.
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