“Aloof,” “loner,” and “not a team player” are words often used to describe introverts in the work/business environment. But what is an introvert, really? Do they really lack what it takes to interact productively, to lead people, and achieve success—or is that the province of the extrovert only? Here is what introverts need to know to succeed.
Introvert. What image does the word conjure up for you? Is it a picture of a fairly reserved person who is most content when he or she is alone in a dim, quiet place, far from the pressures of social interaction and free to enjoy the company of their own thoughts?
And when you hear words like “leader,” “manager,” and “entrepreneur,” do you think of someone with a confident, outgoing personality, who thrives in social situations and can inspire support for their projects and compliance with their directions?
Long-term conventional wisdom has it that extroverts make better leaders, as demonstrated by the findings of a non-scientific USA Today survey of senior-level executives: 65 percent said that introversion was a barrier to success.
But that’s far from the final word on the matter, according to Harvard Business School professor Francesca Gino, who found that success was dependent on the leader/manager’s ability to relate successfully and adapt their management style to the staff, team, or group they are working with.
What this shows is that the stereotype (like all stereotypes) is flawed: introverts and extroverts have an equal opportunity to succeed in leadership positions.
A Closer Look
The New Oxford American Dictionary defines “introvert” as “a shy, reticent, and typically self-centered person” but that only provides a superficial understanding.
For a deeper, more practical look, go to author Jennifer Kahnweiler, a leading expert on introverts who, over more than 20 years of study, speaking, and writing, has irrefutably found that introverts can be great leaders.
As an introvert, you may not be the type that controls the floor at meetings or successfully networks at large events. However, Kahnweiler isolated several core strengths that introverts generally possess which can help you succeed in your business endeavors:
1. They Require and Make Good Use of Alone Time
2. They Prefer to Be Prepared
3. They Communicate Exceptionally Well in Writing
4. They Are Engaged and Receptive Listeners Who Favor Focused Conversations
Alone is where the introvert does his or her deepest, most productive thinking. This is when they will reflect on a problem and develop a solution. This type of thinking is where million dollar ideas come from—new, innovative products and services.
Speaking of aloneness, a related trait of introverts is the need to disconnect from work, the office, or the routine on a regular basis. This need to step away—take a walk, a closed-door solitary break, or even a couple of vacation days—is how the introvert “restores” their ability to handle stress and solve problems.
Where extroverts may improvise or “wing it,” introverts prefer to prepare for meetings, projects, or events and get familiar with issues, materials, and individuals.
Because of their general gift for written communication, an introvert may create broad agreement and/or action with a well-written email whereas others might require numerous meetings to bring about the same result.
But the introvert’s most important capacity is the ability to actively listen and respond to the ideas and members of a team. This is what makes them particularly effective leaders.
Introvert Communication Style
Gino’s study, Introverts: The Best Leaders for Proactive Employees, showed that with primarily extroverted teams or groups of employees—the kind who offer up a lot of ideas and feedback—extroverted leaders were actually a liability because, in their extroverted state, they tended to do most of the talking and failed to listen to employees’ suggestions and ideas, let alone respond to them.
Contrast that with introverted leaders, whose ability and willingness to listen to such a group and turn their inputs into action made for a very successful working situation.
Because of their inclination to prepare, introverts often think before speaking, rather than thinking out loud (a habit more associated with extroverts) and later regretting it. Similarly, introverts eschew small talk with a large number of acquaintances, seeking instead meaningful discussions with a smaller number of closer contacts.
These tendencies, which show a high degree of emotional intelligence, are beneficial, particularly to extroverted team members that work under such a leader.
Getting Ahead as an Introvert
History is full of introverts who rose to the tops of their professions, from Sir Isaac Newton to Abraham Lincoln to Steven Spielberg and Mark Zuckerberg. So it’s not a matter of “can you” but more a matter of how.
The fact is that introverts and extroverts are not mutually exclusive. It’s more like they exist on a graduated scale with absolute extroversion on one end and absolute introversion on the other. If you start in the middle, at zero on the scale, you’ll find introverts exist further toward the introvert side and extroverts are closer to the extrovert side. Each exhibits some traits of the other but to a lesser degree.
The answer to getting ahead is not to try to be an extrovert but to be yourself and use the best of your introvertedness to generate solutions, cooperation, and action:
1. Small Groups: Because introverts prefer meaningful and focused conversation, if you’ve got to call a meeting, it might be more productive to meet with just one or two people at a time, where you can be better in tune with each person.
2. Go Offline: Don’t make yourself guilty for needing to take time to yourself. Establish the time of day where you’re “off limits” to others and do what you need to do to recharge: turn off the phone, set your Skype to “offline,” close your email and then listen to music, take a walk, or just lean back in your chair and relax for a bit.
3. Connect and Inspire: Rather than try to influence people with phony, put-on “energy” or “charisma,” use your ability to get to truly connect with people to engage your employees, collaborators, and others. Your authenticity and interest in others are what inspires them—this is what true charisma is.
4. Bring about Action: Don’t use introversion as a reason to be passive. You can, with your natural skills, get things started, get things changed and get results, though, it may be in a lighter, more thought-out way, as opposed to a lot of shouting and orders.
The last word here is that you may find you are way over on the introvert side of the scale. If getting your ideas out and accepted, motivating people, and dealing with groups (even small ones) are foreign concepts, all you need to do is push yourself a little closer to the extrovert side of the scale. Add just a little extroversion to get the most out of your introversion.