When it comes to leadership, most of the time, extroverts are gaining attention due to their open personalities. Introverts, who tend to be more reserved, are often overlooked. But the truth is, introverts also present an interesting value proposition to organisations as executives and managers.
Introversion is a personality trait existing along a continuum known as extraversion-introversion. This is a single, continuous personality dimension, with extraversion, ambiversion and introversion on its spectrum.
Introverts tend to be introspective, focusing more on their internal psychological experience, thoughts and sensations, rather than seeking out external stimuli, as well as socialising with a smaller group of friends. While extroverts generally have broad circles of friends and acquaintances, introverts are more socially selective. Their close relationships are highly intimate, profound and significant. They also prefer to interact with people on an individual basis, rather than in large group settings.
A common misunderstanding of introversion is that it equates with shyness – this is absolutely not the case. In The Development of Shyness and Social Withdrawal, authors Schmidt and Buss wrote that: “Sociability refers to the motive, strong or weak, of wanting to be with others, whereas shyness refers to behaviour when with others, inhibited or uninhibited, as well as feelings of tension and discomfort”. Shyness implies a fear of people or social situations, something that is simply not true of introverts. Introverts simply have a different set of priorities when interacting and communicating with people.
Common vision of individuals with introverted personality is being bold, charismatic, charming and gregarious. If you observe closely, some notable and successful introverts are around us. Bill Gates, the Founder and Chairman of Microsoft; Brenda C. Barnes, former CEO of Sara Lee; James Copeland, former CEO of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu; Mahatma Gandhi, the spiritual leader of India’s independence movement; Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway, all of them possess introverted personalities. All these leaders are highly credible examples of introverts who achieved major transformational leadership. Specific qualities that set them apart are their preparation, immediacy, ambition, and commitment to excellence.
Research by James Collins, in the book Good to Great, evaluated the characteristics of effective business leaders. Collins mentioned that the common qualities leaders of high-performance companies possessed were humility, modesty, shyness, and unassuming nature. This was coupled with determination and discipline.
Introverts also have the capacity to be excellent executives, according to Victor Lipman, notable speaker, author, and president of Howling Wolf Management Training, LLC. Introverts possess leadership qualities that are highly beneficial to the organisations that employ them. Lipman emphasised that individual with introversion tend to be:
Introverts will neither supplant extroverts nor ambiverts. Ambiverts have their own value to an organisation, as do extroverts, who can help drive a company forward and add tremendous value to both culture and business operations. Each brings a suite of skills and qualities to an organisation’s functioning, with the secret being to manage them in a way that can reap the most benefit from the synergism that arises in their interactions.
Effective leadership requires gregariousness and charisma, as much as it requires clarity in communication, extensive analysis and detailed planning. Introverts are just as capable as extroverts, especially when managing naturally proactive employees. In short, extroverted leaders can be liabilities dealing with extroverted staff, also being unreceptive to employees who make suggestions and take initiative in their work. Introverted leaders tend towards listening, processing and implementing the ideas of enthusiastic staff engaged and invested in the company.
Leaders need to adapt their management styles to their personalities and cultures. Rather than falling back on cultural biases, favouring the most charming and gregarious of individuals as leaders, leaders must look at the cultural context and personalities of staff. Introverts present a clear value proposition to organisations, given their ability to act demonstratively and set clear directions.
In the end, it seems to be a matter of finding the right volume on the continuum between the loud, gregarious voice of extroverts and the soft, deliberate voice of introverts.