5 Myths about Introversion
Extraverted managers can be a obligation if the followers are extroverts, tending not to be amenable to employees who make suggestions and take initiative. Introverted managers are more likely to listen to, process, and execute the ideas of an eager team. This is well aligned with the advanced leadership skill of coaching (defined as asking thought provoking questions and then truly listening to the response). Whether introverted or extraverted, a manager who has the discipline to listen to what others has to say will engage a larger percentage of employees. Many introverts find it simpler to listen than extraverts. But it certainly is a skill that can be taught, trained and institutionalized.
The greatest leaders are those who are able to leverage the talents of the people around them and raise each person to function closer to or at their full potential. Other critical attributes to leadership—authenticity, self-awareness and emotional intelligence—also have nothing to do with introversion or extroversion.
- Myth #1: Being Introverted is the same as Being Shy: While there may be a number of introverts who are shy, there are also a number of extroverts who are shy. There is no absolute association. Introverts are not necessarily shy. Shy people are anxious or frightened or self-excoriating in social settings; introverts generally are not. Introverts are also not misanthropic, though some of us do go along with Sartre as far as to say “Hell is other people at breakfast.” Rather, introverts are people who find other people tiring.
- Myth #2: Introverts are Socially Inept or Anxious in Social Situations: Again, while this may be true for some introverts, this can also be true for extroverts and is not directly related to one’s introversion. Extroverts therefore dominate public life. This is a pity. If we introverts ran the world, it would no doubt be a calmer, saner, more peaceful sort of place. Some people even describe themselves as ambiverts, smack-dab in the middle. Regardless of where you fall in this spectrum, it helps to be aware of how you operate and can best interact with others.
- Myth #3: If I am Fearful of Public Speaking I Must be an Introvert: Studies show the fear of public speaking is the top fear people face, and that 75% of persons experience speaking apprehension. Yet less than half of all people are introverts. Again, there is no direct correlation and this affects extroverts in the same way it involves introverts. People will often use the word “introvert” as shorthand for a variety of negative stereotypes: loner, shy, socially awkward, wallflower, misanthrope. Of course, it’s possible for an introvert to be any of those things, but the same is true for an extrovert.
- Myth #4: Introverts Have Communication Challenges and Difficulty Knowing What to Say: This is social anxiety, not introversion. If you research social anxiety you do not find references to introversion as a cause. The trick for introverts is to honour their styles instead of allowing themselves to be swept up by prevailing norms.
- Myth #5: If You Act Like an Extrovert You Can “Overcome” Introversion: The truth is best summed up by an email I received from a companion executive: “I have spent the better part of a 10-year career turning introversion into extroversion via the same technique used by people to heal bad posture—over correct it long enough and the correct posture becomes natural. This approach was certainly unforgettable but I made a fool of myself more times than I can remember, which is not conducive to long-term connections.” Because of the more reserved, private nature of introverts, people can also think they’re aloof or arrogant.
Introverted managers work against their type in order to fit in with their extroverted colleagues. Not only do individual leaders suffer the energy drains of pretending to be more extroverted but also businesses miss out many of on the contributions that come directly from the introverted qualities they do have.
Ray Williams, a well-known executive trainer and leadership guide in Canada, observes how the introvert—extrovert gulf manipulates our standpoint toward leaders:
Movies, television and the news media have significantly influenced our popular images of leaders—from Clint Eastwood, to Jim Carey, Larry Ellison, and Donald Trump—for the past three decades. This stereotypical view of charismatic, extroverted individuals, often egocentric and aggressive, has been associated with what we want and expect in our leaders. Our culture, particularly in business and politics, seems to be in love with the charismatic leader—the guns blazing, no-holds barred, center-of-attention leader, who is a super-confident if not arrogant, aggressively decisive leader of a band of star-struck followers …. The status and reputation of quiet, introverted leadership is undervalued and under-appreciated. Despite decades of research on leadership pointing to other less demonstrative skills that are needed, extroverts are still favored in recruiting and promoting decisions. Yet recent research reveals that introverted, quiet leaders may be more suited for today’s workplace. If you want an example of a successful introverted leader, you need look no further than Warren Buffett.
What Makes an Introvert
Introverts’ listening skills can be an asset when leading teams. Making sure everyone feels heard, Yeager said, is a good way to secure buy-in. When you’re trying to gain consensus, give everyone the opportunity to voice their opinion. People will be more likely to go along with your decision, even if it’s not the option they preferred, if they feel like they were heard. Susan Cain in ‘Quiet The Power of Introverts’:
Solitude is out of fashion. Our companies, our schools and our culture are in thrall to an idea I call the New Groupthink, which holds that creativity and achievement come from an oddly gregarious place. Most of us now work in teams, in offices without walls, for managers who prize people skills above all. Lone geniuses are out. Collaboration is in…. This has led to a colossal waste of talent, energy, and happiness.
- Careful thinkers who look before they leap
- Usually only speak when they have something to say, after processing internally
- Comfort with independent thought and action
- Feel at their most alive and energized in quiet situations
- Need solitude to balance out social time
- Active inner life, imagination and a strong creative streak
- Steady, balanced presence during turbulent times
- Sharp observational skills
- Capacity for active listening and connecting on an intimate level
- Willing to put other people and their vision in the spotlight
- Desire for focus and to develop a depth of understanding/mastery over a topic
Some Common Myths About Introverts
Though introverts may have a more reserved leadership style than extroverts, they possess many qualities that make them good leaders. Their capacity for listening and reflection, for instance, helps them forge strong relationships with colleagues and clients. Introverts have the ability to really take in what people are saying, process it, and come back to it in a meaningful way.
- They are shy or antisocial. There are “social introverts” who are drawn to people byt need a higher ratio of solitude to social time. There are also those who more closely match the stereotypes of a strong loner.
- They make poor leaders, and are best suited for jobs that limit contact with people. In fact, research shows introverted leaders often out-perform extroverted ones.
- They’re always quiet and don’t talk
- They’re depressed
- They’re all bookworms and nerds
- They’re arrogant, aloof or stuck up
It’s important for introverts to be strategic about how they use their time and energy. Decide in advance who you want to meet and which events you want to attend. Set a goal such as having lunch with a certain number of people this quarter. What I’ve learned is that I don’t have to talk to everyone in the room. Having two to four good, meaningful conversations is enough.
Establish an introvert-friendly environment:
- Stop prejudging.
- Learn the strengths and weaknesses of both.
- Exploit strengths.
- Find solutions as teams.
- Give introverts emotional and physical space. Allow for pauses.