Don't Count Us Out: Why Introverts Have The Untapped Capacity To Lead

"They are engaged listeners and set the stage for people to step into their own strengths."

Despite an increased, industrywide attempt to diversify the workforce, the business world still favors extroverts over introverts. In fact, one poll conducted by USA TODAY established that 65 percent of executives surveyed consider introversion to be a barrier to leadership. However, amidst the fog of these assumptions, companies often ignore introverts' leadership potential.

Traditionally, extroverts are more outgoing and social, while introverts are quiet and reclusive. From these generalized definitions, society has subsequently established stereotypes that portray introverts as individuals who struggle to find joy and happiness. But it's from this subdued independence that most introverts derive their strength and confidence to excel, even when the odds are stacked against them.

As Miranda Johnson, contributor for Quiet Revolution, notes, one undeniable factor in the bias against introverts comes from the dissociation between introverts and leaders. "When you think of the word "leader," what traits immediately come to mind?" she asks. "According to a study by Kirkpatrick and Locke, the traits most associated with leadership are self-confidence, charisma, drive, motivation, creativity, and cognitive ability. When you do a search for "extrovert," words and phrases such as "open," "friendly," "approachable," "leader," "sociable," "verbose," and "able to take the initiative" appear. There is a high correlation between what we imagine "extroverts" and "leaders" to be. But the two are not actually synonymous. There are several aspects of leadership that are less obvious but equally important, and introverts frequently excel at these."

As Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking and leader of Quiet Revolution, explains in her famous TED Talk (below), introverts have far more power than people give them credit for in all areas of life.


While introverts are notorious for their ability to listen and their capacity to work alone, most struggle to pinpoint more positive traits to define the overall group. But, as executive coach and author Jeff Boss writes for Entrepreneur, introverts know exactly how to leverage those strengths everyone else might see as weaknesses.

"Remember being in school and hearing the same kids contribute, until shy little Johnny — who never said a peep — chimed in? Then what happened? Everyone turned around to look in awe at little Johnny actually talking," Boss writes. "This is how introverts leverage their power of presence: they "own" the moment by speaking calmly and deliberately, which translates to a positive perception.

Boss also notes that introverts usually have an accurate sense of their abilities and achievements, which should not be confused with underestimation. Humility, of course, entails the ability to acknowledge mistakes, imperfections, knowledge gaps and limitations, which Boss describes as "all key ingredients for getting ahead in business and life."Being humble also implies an openness to hear new ideas or receive contradictory information, he says.

"Thoughtful, quiet leaders don't try to dominate the conversation or direction of a team," Jennifer Kahnweiler, author of The Introverted Leadertold Henna Inam, contributor at Forbes. "They are engaged listeners and set the stage for people to step into their own strengths. They also are astute observers and known for synthesizing and summarizing key points in meetings."

"Introverted leaders also thoughtfully prepare for meetings and coaching sessions, which makes for substantial contributions," she adds. "In addition, they prefer writing to speaking and will clarify their points through carefully thought out emails. Finally, they build on the preference for one-on-one conversations to be effective coaches and mentors. They use their calm focus and grounded energy to provide reassurance during times of change."

One study, conducted by Peter O'Connor and Andrew Spark, claims that introverts rarely seek out leadership roles because they lack the necessary confidence.

"We found that what introverts think they will feel in a leadership position plays a powerful role in explaining why introverts struggle to emerge as leaders," the duo writes for Quartz. "When participants thought they would experience negative emotions (i.e. fear, worry or distress) these became strong psychological barriers to acting like a leader. Introverts were more likely to think they'd feel these negative emotions than extraverts."

Yet, if the experiments prove these assumptions true, it's only because introverts are innately discriminated against at every level within their given company. Introverts prefer to think before they speak. Introverts prefer to weigh the pros and cons of a given decision before sharing their insight. This doesn't mean they lack confidence — this simply indicates that they lead with at a slower rate, which doesn't exactly align with today's fast-paced business environment.

But, if executives took a moment to slow down themselves, they'd quickly see that for every impulsive leader, there must be another moderating force to help assess the situation and determine the best next steps. Instead of looking at introverts and extroverts as two opposing personalities, companies must treat them as allies as they work to create one cohesive team dedicated to the same goals and outcomes.

Cover image via Shutterstock


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