“We don’t need giant personalities to transform companies. We need leaders who build not their own egos but the institutions they run.” – Susan Cain
Introspective, reserved,and calm. These are not the first things that come to mind when we imagine a successful leader. Perhaps this is why introverts are not usually considered as great leaders.
How can someone who is shy and quiet successfully lead an organisation, guide a team of talented individuals, inspire them, share ideas openly with others and network with other prominent leaders? How can an introvert be a leader? Why can’t we see introverts as leaders?
The problem is not that introverts can’t be leaders. They can be excellent leaders in an organizational and general sense. The problem is with our perception of what a successful leader should be. As we are mostly social creatures, we associate leadership qualities usually with extroverted people. But leaders can come in all shapes and sizes. You don’t need to be loud and socially outgoing to make important decisions and solve crucial problems. A leader needs to be wise, understanding and confident. And introverts fit the bill perfectly.
Myth: “Only extroverts make great leaders”
“There’s zero correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas.” – Susan Cain
Most of us believe that extroverted people make the most successful leaders, whether in the corporate world or in real life. They are confident leaders who guide us, mentor us, help us learn and grow ourselves. Most great leaders are highly engaged and extremely confident with an exceptional capability to influence large groups of people. Apart from making important decisions for their teams, leaders are experts at networking. Although that may be true, if you believe that ONLY extroverts make great leaders then you are seriously mistaken.
Introverts can be highly successful leaders and can even be better than extroverts. Extroverts can be outgoing, outspoken, highly social and loud. But introverts are natural thinkers who are talented decision makers and problem solvers. However, most of us still assume that introverts don’t have what it takes to succeed in the leadership arena.
According to an online survey of around 1500 senior-level managers with an annual income of $100,000, conducted by the job site TheLadders.com for USA TODAY, 65% said “introversion is an impediment to climbing the ladder”. Moreover, 47% of surveyed managers believe “extroverts are better”, while only 6% of managers said “introverts make better CEOs”. The study revealed that most businesses have a fixed and odd outlook at what a good leader must be. Most of them consider introversion as a drawback. However, they couldn’t be more wrong. This long-standing myth that introverts can’t make it as leaders is complete and utter nonsense.
Fact: Introverts can be successful leaders too
“Introverts are more effective leaders of proactive employees. When you have a creative, energetic work force, an introvert is going to draw out that energy better.” – Laurie Helgoe
Interestingly, studies have found that today around 40 percent of leaders are introverts. Although regarded as shy, boring and quiet, they possess specific skills and traits that make them exceptional leaders. Introverts are not necessarily shy. They just become mentally and energetically drained from social events and need some alone time to recharge. Famous leaders like Charles Schwab, Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, Andrea Jung, Marissa Mayer, Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk and Steve Wozniak are all introverts and successful leaders in their respected fields. Even respected historical leaders like Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein, Mahatma Gandhi, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Rosa Parks were introverts as well.
A recent study by author Bradley Agle of the University of Pittsburgh, published in the Academy of Management Journal, found that introverts can make impressive leaders. For almost 11 years, the research requested 770 top managers from 128 large organizations to rate their business leaders and CEOs on their personality trait of being charismatic. The study eventually found that even though charismatic business leaders earned more money, it had no impact whatsoever on the overall performance of the organization.
Although being extroverted and charismatic might not be the exact same thing, the study goes on to reveal that you don’t necessarily need to be charismatic (or for that matter extroverted) to be a successful leader.