Western (business) society seems to be built in a way that values leadership where charisma, overt confidence and dominance are evident. What’s more business seems to be structured around an extrovert success model:
- Networking is important, where networking often considered to be:
- Chatting and contacting people you don’t know, with lots of charismatic irrelevant small talk.
- Big network = Good
- Bold and loud is good
- In training and meetings, extravert ideals like brainstorming and shouting out the answer are common
- It’s “good” to show and share emotions
- And then there’s the open plan office!
Is it any wonder that some, “quieter”, people work hard to shine?
Introversion has a negative perception
Introversion is often perceived to be negative. When I first started my survey, I realised how many people didn’t describe themselves as introverts as it had a negative connotation.
Introvert leaders exist
There are many great leaders who were introverts, both in politics and in business.
- Barack Obama
- Bill Gates
- Mark Zuckerberg
- Jeff Bezos
- Richard Branson
I confess to not having met any of these people and judged for myself! I am working on what I’ve heard from many sources. If I’m wrong, please correct me (specially Bill, Barack, Jeff, Mark or Richard – I’d love to chat)
Is leadership really an extrovert thing?
At times a leader needs to make off the cuff presentations to shareholders, staff or the press. This certainly fits an extravert’s natural skillset. Introverts have a preference for preparing before presenting, but they can do it.
- Developing a vision
- The drive to deliver the vision
- Bringing the staff with you and engaging them in the drive towards the vision
- “Leaders develop leaders”. Helping your team develop and grow increases loyalty, engagement and productivity. It often means stepping back and letting others take the limelight, something introverts are probably better at!
Introvert traits that make good leaders
- Active listening is an introvert superpower. Who hasn’t heard of companies where staff were more engaged when they were listened to?
- Letting your staff take the limelight:
- Acute observation
- Deep reflection.
A study in 2010(1) found that “soft-spoken” leaders are better at running pro-active teams. Maybe they listen more, synthesize better, overrule and override less. This is even more important in uncertain times, where a richer input to the decision making process is likely to be better at adapting to an uncertain future.
All these traits are learnable and do exist in some extraverts. My point is simply to say that introverts have many great leadership talents, despite the extravert bias.
Regardless of being introverted or extraverted, a good leader builds and feeds balanced teams; they manage recognise and develop talent regardless of personality type.
A good, balanced, team has diversity of thought and thus make richer more resilient decisions for the firm’s future. A good leader creates the conditions where such balanced teams thrive.
That leaves two questions:
- What other extravert bias do you see in the western business model?
- What will you do to develop more balanced teams with a greater diversity of thought?
- Spotting an introvert, hiding in plain sight
- Pumping up your team?
- Does it take longer to manage introverts?
Ben Drury, otherwise known as "The Culture Guy" is an expert in company culture. Ben knows a thing or two about culture. Here's what he said about company culture and introversion.