6 December 2021
The power of the introverted leader
When you think of a great leader, who comes to mind?
Do you think of Sir Winston Churchill whose strength, determination and courage were qualities that shone through in his leadership. Or Mahatma Gandhi, a leader with a totally different personality and leadership style to Churchill yet who still had those same qualities of strength, determination and courage? Great leaders come in all shapes, sizes and personality types. In the business world, success as a leader does not mean you have to be a swashbuckling extroverted Richard Branson type or a bullish, take no prisoners Sir Alan Sugar type. You just have to be the best version of whoever you are. Interestingly and perhaps contrary to society’s traditional stereotypes about leadership, it turns out that introverts actually make some of the best leaders. Let us take a closer look at the power of the introverted leader.
The word personality is derived from the Latin word, Persona which historically was the word used to describe the mask that actors or actresses would wear to portray different characters during theatrical performances. Personality is made up of the unique habits, thoughts, and feelings of a particular individual and is generally a consistent, predictable pattern of behaviour throughout a person’s life. There are different explanations of what makes up our individual personalities, some focus on how our early environment and influences impact our personality while others focus on how biological factors such as our genetics influence the shaping of our individual personalities.
In 1910 Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, Carl Gustav Jung first introduced the concept of the extroverted and introverted personality types. The extroverted personality type is one that exhibits the traits of assertiveness and sociability, they enjoy being in crowds and are energised by interacting with the external world. The extrovert is often very comfortable being the centre of attention, they can be talkative, action-orientated and out-going. The introverted personality type on the other hand feels comfortable with being focused on their inner world of thoughts and ideas. They often enjoy their own company or prefer to socialise with one or two friends rather than in a large group. Introverts are often reflective, self-aware individuals who take time to process what is going on inside of them and in the external world.
Former Wall Street, lawyer and best-selling author of “Quiet: The Power of Introverts In a World That Can’t Stop Talking”, Susan Cain, argues that their exists within our educational system and our workplaces a Western cultural bias for extroverts. In the workplace individuals that are likely to get noticed and promoted are usually more extroverted personality types. Susan suggests that outwardly charismatic vocal leaders tend to get paid better salaries but that does not always mean that they produce the best business results. She argues that many workplaces have open plan offices which may foster collaboration and socialisation which is positive and works in favour of extroverted personalities but could hinder concentration, focus and the solitude sometimes required by introverts to produce creative, more thoughtful work.
Part of the bias in the workplace against introverted individuals is that introverts are commonly misunderstood. There are many misconceptions about introverts such as that they are shy, they are not confident, they don’t like working in groups, or talking and many others. The truth is introverts are often involved with processing things at a deeper level, they prefer to listen before they speak. Introverts are often quietly confident and don’t feel compelled to speak for the sake of speaking, it has nothing to do with them being shy. Introverts often enjoy working in groups where their unique contribution to the big picture is valued and they often contribute great insights and solutions to problems once they have had the opportunity to listen to others and process a situation.
Introverts can make great business leaders. Elon Musk, Marissa Mayer, Mark Zuckerberg and Warren Buffett are all examples of famous business leaders who have not done too badly being introverted personality types! Historically speaking introverted leaders like Albert Einstein, Rosa Parks and Eleanor Roosevelt have sparked great revolutions and change in society.
So what exactly is it about introverted personality types that make them such great leaders?
1. Great listeners
Introverts tend not to respond very well to superficial small talk, they prefer to establish deeper individual connections with people. As great listeners they can tune in to other’s needs and make people feel heard. The ability to truly listen to others is something that great leaders do. Knowing that their leader understands them can really help individuals on a team to feel engaged and supported. Listening carefully to customer feedback is an essential skill for leaders to run a successful business and one that can come naturally to the introvert.
2. Strategic thinkers
Introverts internally process what is going on around them. Introverted leaders are excellent at stepping back from situations, thinking strategically and analysing what is going on within a team, with clients and customers, and their business as a whole. The introverted leader will often gather all the facts and listen to all the opinions on something before making a decision which leads to better more measured responses to challenges rather than knee-jerk reactions. The wider view taken by the introvert can sometimes lead to the spotting of a new opportunity or seeing something that no one else can see that makes all the difference to the business.
3. Trust and empowerment
Many introverts don’t feel the need to control others and can be great at trusting and empowering others to do their best work. The reason for this is that introverts have a general preference for working by themselves rather than in a group setting and many introverts have discovered that their own creativity flourishes when they are left to their own devices. Introverts really dislike being micro-managed and as a result introverted leaders are unlikely to micro-manage others. They are likely to give their team guidance and direction but also freedom, this does wonders for team morale and avoids employees feeling resentful and stifled by being micro-managed.
4. Engaging a new generation
The new generation of young people entering the workforce is known as Generation Z, like the Millennial generation they have grown up with technology and tend to lean towards a more introverted way of communicating. This new generation are completely at home with digital communication methods, such as text, social media and email to receive and share information. It is a generalisation but it has been noted that this generation tends to prefer an individualistic one to one approach rather than a one size fits all group motivation type approach. The introverted leader could be better placed to engage this technically savvy generation whereas an overly extroverted approach could potentially disengage them.
The key thing to remember when thinking about introverts and extroverts is the difference in which each of these personality types handles stimulation. Extroverts gain their energy from socially interacting with others, while introverts gain their energy from isolation and quiet reflection. Both personality types can be great, creative, passionate and articulate leaders. I think there is a great deal that introverts and extroverts can learn from each other and we can always evolve and adapt our own leadership style to suit different situations. Being an introvert myself, I have experienced some of the misconceptions and biases of a society that perhaps over emphasises extroversion and my advice to businesses would be don’t ignore the quiet ones, silent waters not only run deep but also the introvert in your organisation may just be the perfect leader to drive your business to greater success.