When we think of the most successful leaders, we usually think of the ones who put themselves “out there,” who interact with people from all walks of life, who recruit the best talent to rally for their cause, who inspire others to take action.
From the picture we, as a society, have painted about leaders, it appears that the best ones are extroverted.
It’s not hard to see where this misconception that extroverts make the best leaders comes from. We often look at leaders superficially and assume that if they are ‘people’ people, then they are probably good leaders. And since extroverts recharge their batteries by being around people, they are usually the ones who get the credit for being good leaders.
But it has been reported that up to 40% of executives describe themselves as introverts. This includes the likes of Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and Charles Schwab. Even Abraham Lincoln and Albert Einstein are said to have been introverts. So then what about introverted leaders? Aren’t they good leaders as well?
The myth about introverts
Being introverted doesn’t mean being low-energy or being shy. The majority of introverts don’t hate being around people and aren’t anti-social. Being introverted simply means that getting your energy from being alone. Introverts need solo time to recharge their batteries, because their rate of arousal is much higher than that of extroverts and so they require less stimulation.
For example, Susan Cain points out in her book Quiet that if you squeeze a lemon on the tongue of an introvert, she will salivate much more than an extrovert. Similarly, introverts will have a stronger response than extroverts to social stimuli. For this reason, they are more likely to enjoy one-on-one conversations and familiar situations.
So what are some strategies that introverted leaders can use to hone their particular strengths and become the best leaders they can?
Put your listening skills to use
Being a good listener is an invaluable skill for any leader, and introverts tend to be quite good at this. What’s more, good listening is not something that we’re all good at. Introverted leaders can take advantage of this to get to know their team members and how they think. Knowing your team members and understanding how they might react in different situations (especially when under pressure) is not only a good leadership trait - it can be the difference between your team thriving or just surviving.
While it’s inevitable that every leader will have to speak in front of crowds and work on motivating their entire team, introverted leaders can strive to keep most interactions with their team members one-on-one. This way, their energy will not be entirely drenched. They will also be able to form more meaningful connections with their team members, as one-on-one time will allow the leader to better understand each and every one of their team members.
Allow time for reflection
Introverts tend to be quite introspective, and setting some time aside for reflection can be doubly beneficial for them. It will allow them to reevaluate their plans and see if there are any changes that need to be made going forward, but it will also allow introverted leaders to have some time to themselves and recharge their batteries.
Manage your energy
Since the main difference between introverts and extroverts is where they renew their energy resources, introverts need to be very careful about managing their energy. To some extent, this involves discriminating among things that will truly be beneficial for you, your team and your company. If a certain gathering or event doesn’t benefit anyone, then it’s probably not worth spending your energy on it.
Embrace your cool
Introverted leaders are more likely to be calm and exhibit a sense of self-confidence than extroverts, who tend to be more emotional and to wear their hearts on their sleeves. These leadership traits can work wonders for the team, especially in times of crisis. Be aware of how you react when times get tough in your company. If you can keep your calm and coach your team members through a crisis, then you’re doing leadership right.
A word about ambiverts
Carl Jung, who coined the terms introvert and extrovert, is known to have said that there is no such thing as a pure introvert or pure extrovert. “Such a person would be in the lunatic asylum,” Jung decreed.
The vast majority of us fall somewhere on a continuum between the two types. That means that we display both introverted and extroverted features. We gain energy from being around people, but after a while our energy starts to drain and we need to spend some time alone to recharge.
That’s why tests like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator don’t just tell you whether you’re introverted or extroverted. They give you a percentage to tell you where you fall on the continuum.
After all, honing the skills of leaders who are more introverted than extroverted is simply about respecting and honouring the strengths of introverts in a society that prevalently values extroversion.
Are you an introverted leader? Do you work with introverted leaders? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!