We live in a society that praises extroversion and treats introversion like an illness that needs to be treated.
Here’s the problem with that: According to Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, one third of the population are introverts. Moreover, introverts and extroverts function differently.
Whereas introverts get their energy from being alone and recharging their batteries, extroverts get their energy from socializing and being around people. Introverts prefer quieter environments, deep conversations and stability, while extroverts prefer louder environments, small talk and novelty. Introverts work best alone, whereas extroverts like to be surrounded by people.
By favoring extroversion, we’re thereby sending the close-minded message that there is only one way to lead, communicate and be. And as a result, we end up missing out on some of the most creative and interesting people.
Not convinced? Here’s why introverts make some of the best leaders.
1. They Are More Thoughtful & Prepared
In her book, Cain states that introverts “seem to be better than extroverts at delaying gratification, a crucial life skill associated with everything from higher SAT scores and income to lower body mass index.”
While extroverts are more impulsive, introverts are more deliberate and premeditative.
Introverts think before speaking, whereas extroverts tend to speak and then think. And when introverts speak, it’s because they have something important to say; it’s not just to fill the silence with words.
Why this matters in a leader: Cain claims that the financial crash of 2008 was caused by impetuous extroverts who ran Wall Street. When introverts tried to speak up beforehand about the potential issues that they saw, they were ignored because of their soft and quiet demeanor.
Sure, risk-taking is important in running any business; at the same time it’s also important for leaders to proceed with caution and think through each decision carefully. Who knows, if introverts ran Wall Street, maybe we could have avoided the financial crisis altogether.
2. They Are Calm
By nature, introverts are calm and collected.
Why this matters in a leader: I don’t know about you, but when someone around me is noticeably stressed and anxious, I tend to get anxious myself. While extroverts tend to get more visibly emotional and upset in critical situations, introverts do a great job at maintaining their composure. So when catastrophe strikes, introvert leaders are able to hold it together.
This is great for two reasons: For starters, it helps them to make decisions without getting too emotionally involved. They are able to think with their head and not get swept away in the heat of the moment. Secondly, they have a calming presence that serves to calm those around them.
3. They Are Great Listeners
Because they are naturally very observant and thoughtful, introverts are also excellent listeners.
Why this matters in a leader: Because great leaders don’t just talk. They listen — to their employees, consumers, and anyone else around them. They are vocal about their ideas but are also open to feedback and change. They take their employees’ ideas into consideration and really listen when they are upset about something.
They also know that listening is the key to learning…and learning is the key to growth — both as a leader and a company.
As billionaire Richard Branson puts it,
I presume those who choose not to listen must think they have already learned all there is to know. Taking my dad’s advice visually, I like to think of a circle that represents everything we could possibly learn. What I personally know would make up a dot so minuscule it couldn’t be seen. What humanity has collectively learned so far would make up a tiny mark within the circle. Everything we all have to learn in the future would take up the rest of the space. It is a big universe, and we are all learning more about it every day. If you aren’t listening, you are missing out.
4. They Don’t Micromanage
Because they are often humble and don’t like to steal the limelight, introverts tend to let their employees take charge.
Why this matters in a leader: One study of 57 store managers found that when employees were very proactive, stores that were managed by introverts had 14% higher weekly profits than those managed by extroverts. Another study among college students found that there was a 28% increase in productivity when group members were paired with introvert leaders.
Harvard Business Review states that, “The extroverted leaders appeared threatened by and unreceptive to proactive employees. The introverted leaders listened carefully and made employees feel valued, motivating them to work hard.”
As this study demonstrates, there are times when it pays to be an introverted leader and there are times when it pays to be an extroverted leader.
While leaders shouldn’t just sit back and let their employees run the show, it is important that they give employees the freedom to exercise their opinions and take charge of situations. The important thing is to guide, not micromanage. Micromanagement lowers morale, makes employees feel suffocated, stifles creativity and leads to resentment. It’s a balancing act.
5. They Stick With Things
Albert Einstein once said, “It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s that I stay with problems longer.”
That, in a nutshell, sums up a major difference between introverts and extroverts. As Cain talks about in her book, introverts are able to focus for long periods of time.
Why this matters in a leader: Leaders should be setting an example for their followers. Like the boss who tells his employees to arrive early to work and then shows up late…If a leader is all over the place and unable to focus or gives up easily on things, what kind of message do you think that is sending to their employees? If, on the other hand, they are focused, not only will that help to deliver better results all around, but it will act as a positive example for everyone else in the company.
6. They Are Creative
According to Cain, solitude is crucial to creativity. For that reason, some of world’s most creative thinkers are introverts — think Albert Einstein, J.K. Rowling and Steve Wozniak (the co-founder of Apple).
Why this matters in a leader: High creativity=great problem-solving skills. Creative individuals are also inspiring. And who doesn’t want to be around someone that motivates and inspires?
7. They Crave Meaningful Conversations
Introverts tire easily of small talk. They prefer more in-depth, deep conversations.
Why this matters in a leader: Deborah Dunshire, M.D., president and chief executive of a biopharmaceutical company said that, “In addition to conducting organizational surveys and town hall meetings, I schedule walk around time, just stopping by offices…I would just say, ‘Hey, what is keeping you up nights? What are you working on? What’s most exciting to you right now? Where do you see we can improve?”
This goes back to the importance of listening. Introvert leaders are great at taking a step back and really taking the time to understand their employees and their company. They are compassionate and make an effort to remain in tune with the needs and desires of their employees.
Barack Obama. Bill Gates. Eleanor Roosevelt. Warren Buffet. Abraham Lincoln. And the list goes on. These are just a few examples of some amazing and highly revered leaders who also happened to be introverts.
And yet, for whatever reason, the extrovert ideal persists.
The bottom line is not that introverts are better leaders than extroverts (history has also shown outstanding leaders who were extroverts). It’s that they both have a great deal to offer — in different ways. And in an ideal world, we would have an equal mix of both kinds of leaders. Or even better, they would all be ambiverts (people who are equally introvert and extrovert).
If you are introverted, embrace it. But at the same time, make sure that you are finding ways to motivate your employees — especially if they are not the proactive, take-charge type.
And if you are extroverted, try to embrace your introverted side — listen more, don’t micromanage and be humble. Remain accountable for your actions and continuously ask yourself how you can improve upon things.
Who knows, with a bit of effort, maybe we can all be a bit more ambivert.