Introverts are getting a lot of positive press lately, likely due to Susan Cain’s bestseller, Quiet: The Power of Introverts. In the book, Cain extols the oft-overlooked virtues of introverts in society. She posits that we have engendered a “cult of personality” that benefits the extroverted among us. However, successful leadership comes in many personality types. Bill Gates and Warren Buffett are two well-known introverted leaders. What typical introverted characteristics would benefit the executive level?
Good listening skills: One characteristic of a good leader is their ability to listen. Introverts are willing to take a step back for others to express their ideas and opinions. They are also receptive to the proactive behaviors of their employees. Enthusiastic extroverts may have trouble letting others share the limelight.
Stay Calm: In business, keeping a cool head is essential when (invariably) expectations are not met, mergers fall through, and the economy experiences recessions. Often, people look to leaders for how to react to news. A good way to prevent jitters or unrest among employees is to project an air of calm. They build trust and comfort in such an environment. Introverts tend to be calm and even-keeled.
Prepared and Deliberate: Introverts are not reactive. They think through decisions and contemplate before they speak. They also tend to be more risk-averse than their extroverted counterparts.
Seek Solitude: Introverts recharge their batteries by being alone. Extroverts derive energy from being with people. However, it is in solitude that we can do our best thinking and is a source of creativity. Introverted leaders may foster an environment of creativity and innovation in this way.
All of this is not at the expense of extroverts, who are confident and outgoing natural leaders. The two personality types are a perfect foil for each other. For an illustration of this, you need look no further than some successful partnerships. Steve Jobs is the famous face behind Apple, but it was Steve Wozniak who built the first Mac computer in his spare time. It was Jobs who suggested a partnership, and the rest is history. Mark Zuckerberg started Facebook, but his COO, Sheryl Sandberg, is perhaps even more visible than him. Extroverted leaders can do the things required in business that may be challenging for introverts: public speaking, interviews, and press. Introverts may put the brakes on when an extroverted partner charges ahead with an ill-considered idea.
With Cain’s book, and the plethora of articles about introverts, more attention has come to the upside of being an introvert; this is an excellent development when leaders appoint C-suite executives.It may be the natural inclination to hire the outgoing person, the one who commands the room. And that may indeed be the right choice. But it’s important not to overlook the introverted professional, who in their quiet way can bring a great deal to a leadership role.