The power of introverts: why introverts are great leaders
I want to challenge a common myth in the business world these days, and that is that extroverts make the best leaders. This is simply not true.
Introversion is often seen as a “barrier to leadership,” and it’s not uncommon to hear someone express that they think introverts don’t have what it takes to oversee a successful team. Many businesses and especially senior corporate executives have a particular vision for what a good leader should be: outgoing, dominant, an expert communicator, speaker, and networker.
Extroverts are perceived to be more effective due to their outgoing nature and outspokenness.
That stereotype is absolutely absurd and worth reexamining.
Who is an introvert?
An introvert is someone who gets his or her energy from alone time. Extroverts get their energy from socializing with other people. Introverts are typically introspective, quiet (but not necessarily shy or anti-social), and observant.
7 signs you are an introvert:
- Get energy from within – need time to recharge after social interactions
- Often shy or reserved when meeting new people or interacting with those you don’t know well
- Have few close friends and select your friends carefully, often dislikes being the center of attention
- Often quiet in large groups or at big events
- Can concentrate for long stretches of time and productive
- Learn by observing others
- Very self-aware of your own behavior, words, and interactions
7 signs you are an extrovert:
- Get energy from interacting with people
- Often sociable and talkative
- Have lots of friends and thrive on attention
- Outspoken in groups and have no problems being in large groups
- Distracted easily and often have a hard time concentrating
- Learn by doing and are typically very hands on with new experiences
- Unload emotions as they go and are very verbal with those around you, may be described as an “open book”
“So many people think that introversion means you don’t like being around people. Introverted does not equal antisocial.” — Cody Vermillion, co-founder of Uncommon [good]
In summary: To me personally, it means that I get rejuvenated by having some quiet time to myself on a regular basis.
Being an introvert doesn’t mean you’re “a loser” or “socially awkward”, it just means you need to be alone when others need to be with people.
Let me take a moment here and clearly express something: There is absolutely nothing wrong with being an introvert, and being an introvert does not mean you are anything “less” than others.
Nobody is only introverted or extroverted, we are all somewhere in-between. It is estimated that 33%-50% of people are introverted. However, in the business world this isn’t the case: studies show that 96 percent of leaders and managers report being extroverted.
How do we define leadership?
In the most basic sense, leadership is the ability to influence people in a manner that enhances their contribution to the realization of group goals. Good leadership is strongly associated with encouraging and lifting others up.
To read more about leadership head to our blog Leaders Create Leaders: What Is Leadership?
A few traits of a good leader:
- Inspires and motivates others
- Displays high integrity and honesty
- Has futuristic vision
- Develops others
- Solves problem
- Builds relationships
To me, none of these leaders’ traits seem at odds with the nature of introverts. Let’s explore deeper.
Introversion ≠ shyness
It is important to note that introversion does not equal shyness.
Being shy often indicates a fear of people or social situations. Introverts, on the other hand, simply do not like spending a lot of time interacting with other people. Sociability refers to the motive, strong or weak, of wanting to be with others, whereas shyness refers to behavior when with others, inhibited or uninhibited, as well as feelings of tension and discomfort.
Introverts are attuned to emotional cues
Many business professionals associate people skills with charisma, and then associate charisma with effective leadership. Wrong.
While introverted leaders aren’t as outwardly bubbly as extroverted leaders, they are more attuned to emotional cues and sensory details. Additionally, a study shows that introverts experience more blood flow to the frontal lobes and thalamus – areas of the brain that deal with internal processing and problem solving. This offers them a huge advantage in working through complex situations.
Introverts are excellent communicators
It’s easy to misinterpret an introvert’s internal processing as disinterest but in reality, most introverts are just incredible thinkers. They spend a lot of time going over scenarios in their head before actually saying or doing anything. They tend to let other people talk, listen to what they’re saying, then use more precise language to describe things. This way of communicating can actually be beneficial in a leadership capacity. They may take longer to contribute, but when they do speak up, they make sure their contributions are well-developed and valuable.
Introverts do like collaborating
While introverts generally prefer to work alone, they also enjoy working in a dynamic group environment. Introverts are more effective than extroverts in leading proactive teams because they don’t feel threatened by collaborative input. They are more receptive to suggestions, listen more carefully, and make the team feel valued, motivating team members to work hard. For this reason alone I find introverts to be excellent leaders!
Introverts show tremendous strength in leadership roles
One of the pervading myths about introverts is that they shy away from being a leader. That’s absolutely not true. Introverts have emerged as leaders in every arena: Michael Jordan, Audrey Hepburn, Oprah, and US Presidents like Thomas Jefferson, Abe Lincoln, Barack Obama. In the business world, some of the most successful founders, inventors, investors, and technologists are introverts, including the likes of Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg.
As it turns out, many of the introvert traits that the business world considers to be detrimental and negative can actually be tremendous strengths in a leadership capacity.
Tips for introvert leaders
As an introvert, it’s easy to feel as if the very foundations of business leadership are engineered against you but introverts have unique personality traits that can empower them to be exceptional leaders if properly leveraged.
I’m happy to share a few techniques that helped me to harness the power of introversion.
- Be unapologetically genuine: Don’t try to be an extrovert, or force yourself to be more outgoing or loud.
- Organize your life while respecting your needs as an introvert: This could include scheduling some quiet time alone after a busy day of meetings or closing your office door for some deep reflection.
- Get out of your own head: Write down all your ideas and share them. Don’t rob the world of your internal genius. Introverts store thoughts for a long time before speaking; be sure to make your process transparent.
- Optimize for deeper relationships: I need to know someone quite well to feel comfortable asking things of them, and ultimately these relationships end up being more rewarding both personally and professionally.
- Take action: Turn all your listening and observing into actionable suggestions.
Get out there: Expose yourself in small doses to the thing you fear (for example, it was public speaking in my case, so I started to teach yoga for small groups and now I’m giving speeches to large groups)
For many years, I labeled myself as shy and that something was wrong with me. I felt incredibly uncomfortable speaking in front of people I didn’t know.
That belief limited me tremendously. In my yoga teacher training, I remember saying to myself that I will not ever be able to teach because of my fear of speaking.
Once I realized that I don’t have to be stuck forever being shy, I tried the opposite. I tried to prove to myself that I can have hundreds of friends. I was outgoing and meeting lots of people.
Deep inside I knew that I was going against my nature, which is introverted. I was exhausted and killing my creativity.
Now I’ve found my balance in working towards being more comfortable giving speeches and respect who I am as an introvert. I love that I use now my energy mainly to stay in and create content that fills my soul and is an inspiration to others. That in return makes me feel like I found that place of contentment and peace knowing that I’m supposed to do just that.
My final advice to introverts is this, be who you are because once you’re comfortable in your own skin you start to organize your life differently. Learn to get the benefits of being an introvert. Don’t make apologies or pretend to be someone you are not. Stay connected with people and avoid total isolation.
Your ideas matter and you have a lot to bring to this world, so find a way to express them.
Mantra: My introverted nature helps me to be a great leader.
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