5 Reasons Introverts Make Better Leaders

It's no coincidence that some of our greatest leaders have been introverts, from Bill Gates to Abraham Lincoln and Albert Einstein. Here's a peek at the introvert's guide to success.
November 06, 2013

Research shows that approximately 50 to 55 percent of American males are introverts. For females, that number is 47 to 55 percent. And yet, as author and psychologist Linda Silverman states, "The American dream is to be extroverted." We push our children to be “people who need people.” And it's no secret that, if given a choice, most businesses would rather hire people who are outgoing.

Ironically, some of the most successful or admired people, of past and present, are introverts. Take Abraham Lincoln, Eleanor Roosevelt, Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein. Or Bill Gates, Larry Page and Steve Wozniak. And how about Michael Jordan, Roy Rogers, Steven Spielberg and J.K. Rowling? Let's also not forget other industry giants such as investment magnates, Warren Buffett and Charles Schwab, publishing tycoon Katharine Graham, and Douglas R. Conant, CEO of Campbell Soup. The list goes on. Studies reported by Jennifer Kahnweiler, author of The Introverted Leader: Building On Your Quiet Strength, show that a full 40 percent of executives are introverts. Chances are many of the people in your business and the majority of your clients may be introverts.

Thanks to recent publications such as Susan Cain's Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, and her TED talk, which was viewed by more than 5 million people, the portrayal of introverts is changing for the better. Cain's work has spawned many positive articles about introversion, including this one. We can benefit a great deal if we set aside our misconceptions about introverts, and take the time to truly evaluate the many gifts that introverts bring to the table.

1. It's smart not to do all the talking.

Introverted leaders are generally considered to be better listeners. A study conducted by Francesca Gino, associate professor at Harvard Business School, reveals that quiet bosses with proactive teams can be highly successful, because introverted leaders carefully listen to what their followers have to say.

Extroverted leaders, on the other hand, can be a liability if their followers are extroverts who like to take the initiative and make suggestions. This is because extroverted leaders are generally less receptive to proactivity: As Gino puts it, extroverted leaders often "end up doing a lot of the talking and not listening to any of the ideas that the followers are trying to provide." They're more effective with passive subordinates who are comfortable with being told what to do.

If you're an extroverted leader, learn from your introverted counterparts and hone your listening skills so you can carefully process and implement your team's ideas.

2. Some quiet time alone is good for you.

In a meeting, while everyone is busy talking, introverts are busy processing their thoughts. As clinical psychologist Laurie Helgoe states in Introvert Power: Why Your Inner Life Is Your Hidden Strength, introverts have an "internal power—the power to birth fully formed ideas, insights, and solutions ... An introvert who sits back in a meeting, taking in the arguments, dreamily reflecting on the big picture, may be seen as not contributing—that is, until he works out the solution that all the contributors missed." 

One of the greatest advantages introverts have is their ability to stay focused, where others around them might be distracted. They're generally not afraid of solitude because they know it's fruitful. It gives them opportunities for self-reflection, thinking, theorizing, observing, planning or imagining, not to mention reading, researching and writing. Our culture discourages time alone, but in our noisy world, with its many distractions, we can get an edge if we carve out some time for solitude. It helps to minimize distractions and aids in staying more focused. It improves our ability to think. Introverts can teach us a lot in that regard.

3. A little humility makes you a better leader.

A 2006 Servant Leadership study, conducted by Jane T. Waddell of Regent University, suggests that some of the virtues of servant leadership that we all admire are also attributes that are more likely to be found in those who have a preference for introversion. One of these virtues is humility. Servant leadership is characterized by a primary desire to be of service to others and to empower followers to grow. Servant leaders believe their company goals are best achieved by developing the potential of their workers. They're not self-seeking and interested in grabbing the limelight. On the contrary, they want to shine the light on others in the pursuit of a greater purpose: the success of their organizations, projects or ventures.

From introverts, we can derive inspiration to free ourselves from an egotistic approach and instead devote our full attention to strengthening subordinates as a way to build a solid footing for a thriving business. It takes humility to do this, but humility pays.  

4. A calming demeanor is good for business.

Introverts are not only quieter than extroverts, but they're also generally calm and collected. In noisy and chaotic organizations, which are often cauldrons of emotion, an introvert's presence is like a salve to the psyche. Their quiet energy is a hidden asset. As Beth Buelow, author of Insight: Reflections on the Gifts of Being an Introvert, notes: "My energy tends to be a calming presence, which means I don’t take up too much space in a room or conversation. And I don’t need to take up a lot of space. I have a greater influence when I am intentional and deliberate in my speech and presence."

The introvert's even temper creates a peaceful atmosphere that engenders trust and safety for those around them. Trust, in turn, helps us do business more effectively. Staying stable and calm in all situations—cultivating equanimity and composure—are the hallmarks of introverts. These attitudes can radiate to others in the workplace, and especially to customers. We can all sense when we enter a business if employees are on edge, which has a detrimental effect on our customer relation experience. If the operative word is calm, the introverts among us can teach us a thing or two.

5. Gathering a fistful of business cards doesn't create meaningful connections.

When we attend a conference or other networking event, we have a tendency to flit from person to person and collect many business cards. This is the antithesis of what an introvert would do. As Cain says, introverts "prefer to connect one-on-one and around an issue they find important. So while an extrovert might attend an event and end up chatting with everyone, an introvert might attend an event, and have a few one-on-one conversations."

Introverts might meet just one or two people, but they make a more meaningful contact with these people and have, therefore, an opportunity of building a relationship.

Bruna Martinuzzi is the founder of Clarion Enterprises Ltd., and the author of two books: Presenting with Credibility: Practical Tools and Techniques for Effective Presentations and The Leader as a Mensch: Become the Kind of Person Others Want to Follow.

Read more articles on leadership skills.

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