“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 great leaders.
How can someone who is shy and quiet successfully lead an organization, 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 they 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 on 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.
Brad Agle said:
“You don’t have to be this big, magnanimous, extroverted, charismatic CEO. I think my study is good news for introverts.”
The fact is we need both extroverts and introverts as leaders. Research by Harvard Business Review has found that in unforeseeable and complex scenarios, introverts make better and more efficient leaders. The report stated –
“In a dynamic, unpredictable environment, introverts are often more effective leaders – particularly when workers are proactive, offering ideas for improving the business. Such behavior can make extroverted leaders feel threatened.”
Introverts are better able to manage situations that extroverts find hard to navigate. Being calm, introspective, and quiet is crucial for organizational success in the long run.
Reasons why introverts make great leaders
Introverts are expert leaders. In fact, they can even be better leaders than extroverts as introverts have certain qualities and advantages over their loud and outspoken counterparts.
If you can’t imagine introverts as leaders, then here are a number of excellent reasons why introverts can be strong and successful leaders in business and in life:
1. They are excellent problem solvers.
Problem-solving skills are crucial for good leadership. Introverts solve problems by giving attention to details, rather than being in a hurry. According to a 2012 report by Randy Buckner of Harvard University, introverts have “thicker gray matter in their prefrontal cortex – a region of the brain that is linked to abstract thought and decision-making”. Buckner believes this is why introverts think things “thoroughly before making a decision”.
This makes introverts adept at observation, abstract thinking, and decision-making. Hence, they come to a decision only after considering all aspects and possible outcomes. They think significantly about every decision and reflect on finding creative problem-solving techniques.
Studies have also found that introverts don’t make snap decisions that frequently. It was found that “introverts are better at decision making than extroverts”.Introverts rely on facts as well as intuition to make a decision. When you can solve problems effectively, your team will stand by you and remain productive.
2. They are well prepared.
“Introverts think carefully before they speak. We can be excellent public speakers because we prepare carefully.” – Sophia Dembling
Although introverts are not known for their public speaking skills, they can make a compelling presentation when they need to. Being master of research and preparation, they think and plan effectively before the act and speak.
In meetings and presentations, introverts are the most prepared individuals in the room and when they speak, they add value to the conversation. Equipped with knowledge, introverts speak calmly, deliberately, and with clarity which creates a powerful and strong presence.
3. They are strong willed and humble.
Leadership requires a lot of subtle traits and introverts seem to be masters at owning those specific skills. Being self-aware, reflective, honest, and resilient, introverts are naturally programmed to lead. Introverts are goal-oriented individuals who do not seek the fringe benefits of being a leader. They do not lead to gain praise but to empower and help others improve and grow. As they have strong willpower, they do everything necessary to achieve a goal.
Moreover, introverts are exceptionally humble and welcome all sorts of input from employees which leads to the creation of an open environment of trust and collaboration.
4. They are expert listeners.
Paying attention to what your employees and clients are saying and understanding what is left unsaid is an essential leadership trait. Introverts as leaders are great observers and listeners who pay attention to every little detail. They listen and understand what everyone in the room has to say and will speak only when they can say something meaningful.
As they are not interested in being the center of attention, they put the limelight on others and appreciate ideas and suggestions from everyone around them. Listening and learning from others is a valuable leadership skill and introverts excel in that.
According to the Harvard Business Review report –
“…introverted leaders tend to listen more carefully and show greater receptivity to suggestions, making them more effective leaders of vocal teams.”
5. When they speak, everyone listens.
Introverted leaders think before they speak. They consider everyone’s opinions, carefully analyze all facts, conduct thorough research, reflect, and then respond. When an introverted leader speaks, people know they are going to say something important and valuable. Such is the power of their calm and reserved demeanor.
As they contribute to a discussion only when they have something to say, when introverted leaders do speak, they speak with power, positivity, and confidence that significantly influences everyone around them.
“When a quiet introvert talks, heads turn, and that’s power.” – Laurie Helgoe
6. They are calm & collected.
Organizations are breeding grounds for difficult emotions. Among the chaotic and frantic daily struggles, stress and anxiety are commonplace which can lead to a lot of bad decisions. In such environments, introverted leaders know how to stay calm and make decisions based on observations and analysis.
They bring stability as leaders and their calming aura enables others to cope with all the chaos in the best way possible and maintain trust, safety and security within the team.
7. They perform best in solitude.
“I don’t believe anything really revolutionary has ever been invented by committee… I’m going to give you some advice that might be hard to take. That advice is: Work alone… Not on a committee. Not on a team.” – Steve Wozniak
Introverted leaders value solitude and feel energized by spending some alone time. Bill Gates, the founder and chairman of Microsoft, spends a week at his cabin on a cedar forest in the Pacific Northwest in a biannual ritual known as “Think Week”. His personal 7-day retreat helps him to recharge, reflect and think about new ideas about the future of technology.
Gates spends the whole week away from the extrovert-dominated society and is completely isolated from civilization. During this time, he reads, thinks, reflects, and spends a lot of time alone while being completely disconnected from employees, friends, and family.
“Well, I think introverts can do quite well. If you’re clever you can learn to get the benefits of being an introvert, which might be, say, being willing to go off for a few days and think about a tough problem, read everything you can, push yourself very hard to think out on the edge of that area. Then, if you come up with something, if you want to hire people, get them excited, build a company around that idea, you better learn what extroverts do, you better hire some extroverts, like Steve Ballmer I would claim as an extrovert, and tap into both sets of skills in order to have a company that thrives both as in deep thinking and building teams and going out into the world to sell those ideas” – Bill Gates
Like Gates, all introverts suffer from too much interaction with others and need to recharge themselves frequently. These timeouts help them think clearly and gather themselves so that they can face new challenges with the necessary enthusiasm and gusto. This makes them responsive instead of reactive. Solitude enables introverts to perform their best and gain clarity and consistency in work and in life.
8. They are highly creative.
Introverts bring a lot of creativity to the table and this can be remarkably helpful for leaders. Creativity, coupled with an analytical mindset and focus, empowers introverted leaders to find unique and original solutions to problems and obstacles.
Their creative mindset also allows them to develop a culture of flexibility and innovation within organizations. Moreover, creative introverts also make inspiring leaders. For that reason, introverts as leaders are highly successful.
9. They build meaningful connections.
Introverted people may not be the most social individuals, but they can most certainly develop lasting, meaningful relationships. When they make a personal connection, they make sure it is not something superficial. They value deep bonds and invest a lot into developing and maintaining relationships.
Although they make connections rather slowly and selectively, introverts focus more on the quality than the number of relationships. They take some time to open up but once they do, they build deep and lasting connections that are both professionally and personally rewarding. Their unique relationship-building skills make them the perfect leader in any situation.
Introverted people are perfect leaders
The best and most successful leaders aren’t necessarily the most sociable, noticeable, or loudest ones. It’s time to put the myth that introverts can’t make great leaders to rest and focus on the fact that they are perhaps even better leaders than extroverts.
“So stay true to your own nature. If you like to do things in a slow and steady way, don’t let others make you feel as if you have to race. If you enjoy depth, don’t force yourself to seek breadth. If you prefer single-tasking to multi-tasking, stick to your guns. Being relatively unmoved by rewards gives you the incalculable power to go your own way.” – Susan Cain
You don’t have to pretend to be an extrovert to get everyone to notice your leadership skills. Your silence, observation, creativity, and unique thinking abilities give you unparalleled strength and provides you an edge in your leadership role.
If you’re an introvert, then embrace your introversion, use your inherent skills, and be your unique self.
You are born to lead.