Many people falsely believe that extroverted individuals are the most successful leaders. But in fact, both introverts and extroverts have equal opportunity to achieve greatness in the workplace. An introvert leader can guide, mentor, make important decisions, and network just as well as an extrovert leader. Even though their style is different, introverted leaders have valuable gifts they can harness to improve their work and the lives of those they manage.
In this article, we’ll explain exactly why you should nurture introverts into leadership roles and how to make the most of your own introverted personality with a few practical tips. Keep reading to discover the myths, qualities, and fame many introvert leaders experience.
Why introvert leaders are a benefit to businesses
The idea that extroverted individuals are better leaders than those with introverted traits is influenced by the number of people in leadership positions who are naturally extroverted. According to a collection of studies analyzed by Positive Psychology, the majority of people around the world identify themselves as either somewhere in the middle of the two extremes or almost evenly split between them.
Despite this, people still largely believe that the majority of people are extroverted, especially if they hold a position of power.
This may be because, as humans, we tend to think that whoever is more outspoken is more confident. Confident people are the most inspiring, therefore we assume whoever talks the loudest is the best possible leader.
But introvert leaders, regardless of their confidence levels, are living proof that the opposite is also true. Even the quietest person in the room has the ability to be a powerful leader, if given the chance.
Although contrary to popular belief, personality tests do not measure the differences between introverted and extroverted individuals. Instead, they look at the continuum of behaviors. Both sets of opposing behaviors, including outspoken vs. soft spoken, can be used to effectively lead people.
It all comes down to what leaders do and how they do it.
As we all know, there’s more than one way to manage a team. And you may find that an extrovert’s approach is less effective than an introvert’s when it comes to a particular group of people or the type of work you’re doing together.
Introverted leadership qualities
Here is how introverted leaders work their magic. If you have more than five of the following characteristics, you may display introverted leadership qualities regardless of how you personally identify. Here’s what to look for in yourself or other introverts:
- Thoughtfulness in words and actions
- Thinking deeply about fewer ideas or projects
- Remaining calm in high-pressure situations
- Interest in productive processes over quick end results
- Prefers quality connections over fewer shallow ones
- Easily maintains focus in the long term
- Detail-oriented when solving problems
Myths we need to dispel about introverted leaders
There are many rumors about introverts and their leadership abilities. These may seem harmless at first, but learning about the introverted leadership style will provide guidance for everyone from directors to managers who want to help employees reach their full potential companywide. Here are some biases worth rethinking:
Myth #1: Faster is good
Extroverts thrive on sharing their thoughts as soon as they have them. This is especially true in group sightings where they can jump from topic to topic.
Introverts, on the other hand, like to take their time. They often speak slowly and think through things before sharing with the group. This adds a level of diplomacy to their actions which is especially beneficial when it comes to dealing with sensitive subject matters.
Myth #2: Louder is better
Extroverts are known for being enthusiastic. They're often seen as the life of the party or the conference room.
Introverts, however, often get labeled as sticks in the mud. But don't be fooled by their quiet disposition. A quiet confidence is more valuable in professional settings where strategic action is valued. When it comes to speaking in a group setting, introverts often demonstrate quality over quantity.
Myth #3: Expressive is best
Extroverts are confident in themselves and their achievements so you often hear them excitedly sharing them. While there are many benefits to loud and proud leaders, sometimes humility is a more effective strategy (as long as it doesn’t lead to persistent imposter syndrome).
This is especially important to consider when collaborating with clients and partners who have cultural backgrounds that are different from your own. For example, many European countries view stereotypical extroverted Americans as less agreeable than an introvert’s calmer, low profile approach.
Famous introverts that made great leaders
People often illustrate introverts as reserved and quiet, socially awkward, solitary and soft-spoken. These qualities may make it seem that introverts lack the confidence and social skills that leaders, pioneers, and change makers possess. But you may be surprised to learn that 40% of leaders and executives identify themselves as introverts:
- Bill Gates
- Warren Buffett
- Marissa Meyer
- Mark Zuckerberg
- Guy Kawasaki
- Barack Obama
These are only a few of the famous leaders and innovators who consider themselves introverts but you’ll find at least one major influencer in every industry, specialty, and leadership role who openly identifies as one.
Their success proves that transformational leadership is not monopolized by those with an outgoing, socially-affable, and highly-confident temperament. In fact, despite an extroverted environment, introverts can successfully take the reins in any organization.
Tips for leadership as an introvert
As Westcliff researcher Ekta Agarwal writes in their study of introvert leaders: “The goal is not to change introverted leaders, instead it is to understand their preferences and use it as a strength.”
And while Psychology Today says it’s “not necessarily fake or inauthentic for introverts to act the part of extroverts”, understanding what makes an introverted leader unique is the first step to helping them achieve truly authentic leadership.
Here are six tips that introverts and people who manage them can leverage to harness their innate management and leadership skills:
Listen first, talk later
Introverts tend to shy away from small talk because it drains their energy. Typically, they prefer to stay on the sidelines and listen first, and weigh in with their own viewpoint later (or when asked).
A study managed by Francesca Gino, associate professor at Harvard Business School, shows that introverted bosses with active teams can be extremely successful, because they patiently listen to what their team members have to say.
This trait allows introverts to be especially effective leaders, since successful collaboration requires effective communication. Introverts tend to evaluate the full picture of a situation, carefully prepare what they are going to say, and add comments and instructions that are well thought out and clearly communicated.
Step up during times of crisis
An introvert is capable of creating fully formed ideas and solutions that are rooted in his or her own inner power as much as, or sometimes more than, an extrovert.
This person may seem unproductive until they come up with a solution that everyone else missed. Then, their contribution is often valued highly since it is typically well thought out and detailed. By listening more than they speak, introverts are able to digest more information before making a proper analysis of the situation.
Combine this with introverts’ ability to listen intently to their colleagues and weigh different perspectives, and they can be a valuable voice of reason in times of crisis.
Get out of your comfort zone
Because of their low social energy, networking can be difficult for introverts. But because it is key to opening up important business opportunities, it requires introverts to step outside of their comfort zone a bit.
Introverts actually can use their natural sincerity to lessen their anxiety and better engage others in conversation, making meaningful connections.
Use your writing skills
Introverts prefer to communicate in writing because it allows them to organize their ideas as they pen their thoughts. Author John Green jokes, “Writing is something you do alone. It’s a profession for introverts who want to tell you a story but don’t want to make eye contact while doing it.” But in all seriousness, introverts make the best writers and can use this skill to their advantage when leading groups.
Take time to recharge
Given the limited social energy that introverts have, engaging in too many group activities and events drains them. Once their social energy is used up, introverts tend to withdraw from their surroundings in search of rejuvenation. Taking some time to work individually is essential to keeping efficiency and productivity high. It’s also key to preventing burnout.
As an introvert, set aside time during your day to get back into your contemplative zone and re-energize. You can actually use this time to come up with new strategies and ideas, and surprise your company with the surge in enthusiasm and passion at work.
Use collaboration and communication apps
Going digital can be especially advantageous for introverts, since they can preserve their social energy for in-person meetings with important clients and business partners, while staying connected with their team. Instant messaging, collaboration, and work management apps like Wrike can bring enhanced communication, transparency, and accountability to the workplace.
Successful managers, executives, and leaders are not defined by their personalities. They are defined more by how they handle critical situations, guide their team to achieve their goals, and inspire those around them, while being true to themselves.