Introverts can never be as good of a leader as extroverts.
This is a myth that has pervaded the professional world for far too long.
Many executives and professionals see introversion as a barrier to effective leadership and people management. While it is true that leadership is a complex job that requires the combination of numerous skills and traits, it does not mean that only extroverts can be good leaders.
In fact, introversion can actually be an invaluable leadership asset for those who understand how to leverage the quality effectively.
Extroversion vs. Introversion
Carl Jung identified introverts as individuals who draw energy from being alone. Generally, people with introversion tend to avoid actively engaging in social situations more than what is necessary. However, that is not always the case and it is important to note that this quietness should not be equated with shyness.
|Gain energy by interacting with people||Gain energy from alone time|
|Often outspoken||Often quiet|
|Learn by doing||Learn by observing|
|Tends to enjoy large social situations||Tends to enjoy smaller social situations|
|Often think out loud||Rehearse mentally before speaking|
|Unload emotions as they go||Tend to bottle up emotions|
|Often easily distracted||Can concentrate for long stretches|
|Make decisions quicker||Need more time to make decisions|
Source: Carl Jung’s theories
According to current estimates, roughly 30-50% of the world population shows traits of introversion. However, this percentage is far outweighed by extroverts in the business world as 96% of high-level executives worldwide are reported to be extroverts.
There is clear evidence that persons who identify as introverts are often at a disadvantage when it comes to securing high-level leadership roles. The reason behind that is an age-old prejudice against diverse personalities.
How Culture and History Shaped Our Understanding of Leadership
Hundreds of studies in recent years have provided insight into what makes a leader’s success, all while revealing how culture continues to shape our interpretation of such roles today.
Our understanding of leadership has changed dramatically over time. Where there once was an emphasis on collective success, for someone to be considered a great leader today, they need to be able to command attention with their charisma and communication skills.
In fact, here are five of the most widely-believed leadership myths that permeate the professional world:
Myth #1: Leaders do not make mistakes.
Myth #2: Good leaders should be outgoing.
Myth #3: One leadership style works for all.
Myth #4: Leaders should never show vulnerability.
Myth #5: Leaders should always be on top of their game.
See the impact of each myth and the truth behind them here: LINK
However, a study by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman on 300,000 business leaders shows that there are certain traits that actually make introverts the best leaders for their company as well as their team.
- They drive results
- They display technical and professional expertise
- They display strategic perspectives
- They communicate in an effective manner
- They build connections and relationships
- They solve problems efficiently
- They innovate
- They develop their people
- They inspire and motivate others
- They display high integrity and honesty
If you take a careful look at these traits, none of them are at odds with the nature of introverts.
Many people associate leadership with extroversion. In truth, the loud, high-energy, type-A person is just one type of leader. The fact is, good leadership comes in many shapes, sizes, and personality types as well.
While some might think that outgoing people are the best leaders, you might be surprised to learn that some of the most successful business leaders in the world today are introverts.
Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Mark Zuckerberg, Marissa Mayer and Elon Musk are all prominent figures who exhibit traits of introversion. Introverts in history include Abraham Lincoln, Eleanor Roosevelt, Albert Einstein, Rosa Parks, and Mahatma Gandhi.
Would you ever consider them to be bad leaders?
Both types of leaders are needed in businesses. Here are some reasons why introverted people can be as good as extroverted leaders.
Related read: 9 Cognitive Biases That Affect Your Leadership
The Quiet Strength Behind Introverted Leaders
- They Are Incredible Listeners.
Unlike their introverted peers, extroverts are more inclined to do more of the talking as opposed to listening. Even when they are quiet, they may just be waiting for their next chance to weigh in on the conversation.
On the other hand, an introvert who wants a full picture before making a decision is more likely to listen to every word being said. They will give space to hear other people’s ideas and learn from what they have been through. As a leader, being an active listener to people’s experience, opinions, and feedback (or feedforward) is crucial to ensure the team has all the support they need.
- They Are Deliberate In Their Speaking.
Introverts are generally not the kind of people who talk just to hear their own voices. Their observant nature and their natural tendency to plan what they want to say carefully before saying anything, makes all the difference. When they speak, everyone else will feel the need to listen because most of the time, they will be saying something worth listening to.
While extroverts may have a leg up when it comes to tasks like providing recognition to people frequently and publicly, the strength of the introvert lies in their careful choice of words and timing when praising others. As a result, their recognition tends to be impactful and at a time when it matters most.
- They Are Observant.
Introverts are observant. In practice, this means demonstrating the willingness in social situations to sit back and observe, let others speak first, and see how things go before engaging in the conversation. By doing this, they are able to analyze the matter at hand from a different point of view and make better decisions.
These sharp observational tools lead to other benefits as well. Introverted leaders who focus on observation first and foremost tend to have the ability to see the little things that other people might have missed, such as the effort that people put into improving themselves, changes in appearance, and changes in behaviors. When they bring this up to relevant individuals, they will feel that their efforts are noticed, valued, and appreciated.
- They Are Self-Starting, Independent Workers
Even though it’s clear that being a leader means working as a team, there will be times when you need to focus on more important matters that only you can do.
As we have mentioned above, introverts can be alone for long periods of time, which allows them to concentrate on important tasks until they are done. As long as an introvert can find a quiet place to work alone, they will be at peace and accomplish what they set out to do successfully — essentially, they may have higher productivity compared to extroverts who are more likely to welcome distractions and prolonged socialization.
- They Are Good At Handling Uncertainty.
Since they enjoy being with, well…themselves, introverts are also known to spend a lot of time overthinking things, meaning they will rarely rush into things. They are likely to take the time to carefully think about their decisions before even considering acting upon it.
They also demonstrate better problem solving endurance. They stick with problems even when it feels like a solution is nowhere to be found – a time when many others may abandon ship altogether. They will not give up on the project and leave everything behind.
This is an admirable and much-needed quality, especially in today’s highly uncertain times.
- They Are Highly Loyal.
Introversion is often conflated with shyness or being a loner. However, oftentimes they are simply careful about who they let into their inner circle, and they prefer to keep that circle tight over a long period of time.
When they are at work, introverted leaders build close relationships with the colleagues they trust. This makes working relationships better and opens up chances to work together.
- They Let Other People Shine.
We’d all like to be recognized for our effort. Yet you’ll often hear employees complaining about their managers getting the due credit. Introverts, on the other hand, are often exempt from the debate. This is due, in part, to their focus on others’ success and their willingness to deflect public celebrations onto their team.
While it is important to share in group achievement, leaders are well served by using the limelight to showcase other members’ contribution. The act of bragging about others is a double edged win, as well. While they build rapport by building up others, they also develop trust through their insistence on focusing on the collective ‘win.’
It is a unique trait that many people do not have, but introverts do. Recognizing the work of others can make a team more cohesive and involved, as well as boost morale.
- They Are Open To Critique.
Aside from never taking credit for themselves, introverts are also open to suggestions and criticism. Being naturally great listeners, introverts are more likely to provide the space for people to contribute their thoughts and ideas to the table.
This ability is essential in leadership and in building a culture of open communication. Sometimes, the difference between being a boss and being a leader is your ability to let others speak up.
Related read: 9 Leadership Myths (Debunked)
It Is Time To Find The Strengths In Your Unique Abilities
Even though popular opinion may suggest otherwise, introverts can be great leaders if they can leverage their most natural talents to their advantage.
Both introverts and extroverts can be great leaders if they know how to harness their unique natural strengths.