We all know the stereotype of a “successful” leader – outgoing, charismatic, well-rounded, unflappable, confident and assertive – with a pedigree from a top school, of course. In short…an extrovert.
But how accurate is this? (hint: it’s not – few of us fit into any particular “mold”)
Where do introverts fit into the leadership equation?
If you’re an introvert, you’ve probably encountered statements like these during your career:
- Try being a little more social; you’ll attract so many more opportunities that way.
- If I were you, I’d speak up more so people actually know what you’re thinking.
- Be more outgoing! If you want to climb the corporate ladder, you’ve got to be noticed.
Despite conventional wisdom and decades of conditioning in many workplace cultures that outgoing, extroverted leadership is the only way to success, here’s what we really know: introverts make great leaders (oh yes we do!).
How so? Let’s start by putting things in perspective with a great quote from author Rob Asghar in a Forbes article on introverts in leadership:
“There’s no one-size-fits-all kind of leader. The manner of leader your organization needs always depends on the situation.”
Now more than ever, the dynamic world we live in demands a range of talented individuals to lead in innovative new ways. It’s undeniable there are settings where extroverts are the best fit. But more and more, organizations are leveraging the distinct advantages introverts can bring.
With their quiet presence, introverted leaders offer a number of benefits
Introverted leaders are often:
- Driven by productivity. But how will they lead? That’s a common question when hiring an introvert, even when she meets all the other qualifications of the job. Truth? Introverts are absolutely driven to succeed – they’re simply motivated by different factors than their more extroverted counterparts. They may not be as concerned about shining in the limelight, but you can bet their steady presence will guide the organization to success.
- Pros at solving complex problems. Introverts are able to give thoughtful consideration to problems large and small, methodically outlining the pros and cons to determine the best path forward. Far from adopting a “my way or the highway” mentality, many introverts welcome input and feedback from their teams to develop the smartest course of action.
- Masterful decision-makers. Decision-making and leadership go hand-in-hand. Here’s a little science for you – a 2012 study found that introverts were more inclined to have larger, thicker gray matter in their prefrontal cortex as compared to extroverts. The prefrontal cortex is associated with abstract thinking and decision-making.
- Able to develop meaningful relationships. One of the biggest misconceptions about introverts is that they’re not social or interested in building relationships. Yet, many often possess an uncanny ability to strategically develop and maintain lasting relationships. Introverts can be excellent, thoughtful listeners and often do well in one-on-one settings or in smaller groups.
- Wizards at bringing out the best in others. Introverts value the unique contributions of others and generally emphasize a “we” rather than a more narrow “me” focus. According to an HBR article, “In a dynamic, unpredictable environment, introverts are often more effective leaders—particularly when workers are proactive, offering ideas for improving the business.”
Introverted leaders are all around us
“In an increasingly distracted and fast-changing world, we need thoughtful, calm leaders whose capacity for focus and observation are absolutely necessary for teams.”
You may not realize it, but introverted leaders are all around us. In fact, some of the most impactful leaders and change makers throughout history were introverts.
May Inc.com’s list of 23 of the Most Amazingly Successful Introverts in History inspire you today. Some names here might surprise you – but what this really shows is how we all have a unique, meaningful purpose to share with the world.
Here are a few notable names that you may never have guessed are introverts:
- Former First Lady Hilary Clinton
- Civil rights activist Rosa Parks
- Microsoft founder Bill Gates
- Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerburg
- Former US President Barack Obama
But what if it feels like you don’t fit into any category – introvert or extrovert? You’re not alone – I’ve actually found that about two-thirds of us are not true extroverts or introverts. We’re actually ambiverts.
Ambiverts have aspects of both traits at their disposal. In other words, think “continuum” rather than “category.” For those of us who don’t fall into any category but rather somewhere on that continuum, the benefits can be substantial because we can thrive in a wider spectrum of environments.
In the real world, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to leadership. At different times in life, we may discover that we’re more aligned with extroverted qualities; at other times, we embrace our inner introvert.
No matter where you fall on the spectrum, know that we are each here to live our purpose and to make a meaningful impact in our world. How will you leverage your unique capabilities to make that happen?
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Colleen Slaughter Raue, Managing Partner of Authentic Leadership International
Colleen is a transformational leadership coach who guides international leaders as they attain the clarity, courage and self-confidence necessary to realize higher levels of productivity and fulfillment in both their personal and professional lives.
Her purpose is to facilitate her clients’ transformation from limiting beliefs and self-doubts into a deeper, more powerful knowingness of how much they – and what they envision for themselves – truly matter.
Colleen’s perspectives were recently featured in an article on the International Coach Federation’s website here.