Search for the hero inside

Let’s take a quiet moment to consider the hidden power of introverts in a world at a full volume.

Why introverts really do make great leaders.

Article by:

Stephen Brunt

In business, politics and even sport we are drawn to the more charismatic, the seemingly more confident, the more gregarious, outgoing leader. The extravert. We want to be engaged, inspired, brought together and often feel more secure with someone who exudes confidence. Socially it seems to be more acceptable to be an extravert rather than an introvert. 

But are we missing a trick by always being drawn to that which we can always see or hear? 

There are plenty of examples of successful people who might be seen as introverted: Albert Einstein, Barack Obama, Rosa Parks, Meryl Streep and JK Rowling, to name but a few. 

When it comes to introversion and business leadership there are fewer examples that come to mind. 

The Myers Briggs Company found, in their decades of data and research, that introverts are vastly under-represented in top leadership roles. In the US, only 39% of top executives and senior leaders reported a preference for introversion and in the UK it was 28%. 

9 out of 10 people also reported feeling pressure to behave in an extraverted way. 

If they are so under-represented, do introverts really make great leaders? 

Before we look to answer that question, let’s make sure we are all on the same page when it comes to our understanding of the terminology. 

The cult of personality

The traits of extraversion and introversion are core to several human personality theories, but it was Carl Jung who popularised the terms. In referring to extraversion and introversion Jung was interested in where people got their energy, where they put their attention. He found extraverts were energised by the external world of people and things whereas introverts gained their energy from the more internal world of ideas and images. 

Nobody is a pure extravert or introvert, in fact if you find it easy to be on both sides of the preferences you might be called an ‘ambivert’. We dip our toes into our opposites regularly and we should not think of these things as an absolute either/or, but more on a sliding scale based on the strength of our preference. 

If there are more of them, presumably extraverts must make the better leaders? 

There is no definitive research to suggest that either an introvert or an extravert is more effective when it comes to leadership and, as teams are made up of a blend of personalities, introverts should be just as successful as extraverts. 

There is one study that suggested that the type of employee that the leader manages can have some impact on whether that leader is more successful than not.

It suggests that extraverts tend to be better at leading more reactive employees; those who need more guidance, direction and motivation. Introverted leaders tend to be more effective with employees who take more initiative, work well unsupervised and like to create ideas and make suggestions. 

Why introverts DO actually make great leaders

As introverted leaders are less common, it is not always apparent what they can bring to an organisation, so here are a few situations where they have the edge over their extravert colleagues:

  • An air of calmness which can be invaluable in stressful situations. They don’t jump to conclusions or make rash decisions. They will use their reflective nature to process what is going on.
  • High levels of self-awareness. Due to the inward nature of their personality, and the fact they generally don’t take feedback personally, they know their strengths and weaknesses. 
  • They make great listeners. They listen attentively and deeply because they are not listening to respond, they listen to understand. They will ask for and consider the opinions of others without asserting their own views. 
  • They think before speaking. They reflect on what they are going to say before saying it and you can be sure that what they say will have been analysed, considered and will be relevant. 
  • They tend to be strong planners and will generally focus on longer term goals, helping in the more strategic planning required for senior leaders. 
  • They are open to opinions different to their own. Introverts will want to assimilate as much information as possible before reaching a decision and that includes listening to views and opinions that are not necessarily their own and that they may not agree with. 

It can seem that our society is engineered in a way that works against introverts, but they have unique personality traits that can enable them to become exceptional leaders, if those traits are recognised and valued. There are great examples, if you know where to look of introverts (Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, Steve Wozniak, Larry Page, just for starters) who are living proof that their personality style is not a barrier to success when it comes to leadership. 

Here are some top tips on how to take advantage of introversion: 

  • Use your powers – ask clear questions, summarise your understanding, clarify the chatter of others and present your concise insights in order to influence and shape the conversation.
  • Give yourself time – after meetings, networking events etc. plan some time for yourself before the next thing. 
  • Get it out of your head – write down all your thoughts and ideas and share them with someone you trust. 
  • Be you – don’t try and be an extrovert or force yourself to behave in a way that is not authentic to you. Experiment with more outgoing behaviours by all means but remain confident in your own style.
  • Share your thought process – be open with what is going on when you are reflecting on suggestions and ideas raised by others. 
  • Get your thinking done in advance – do your research, get the agenda, prepare some thoughts and ideas, so you are ready to share your insights before the conversation moves on.

When you want to find out more about the work we are doing all over the world, building outstanding leadership cultures and high performance teams, do get in touch.

We are ready when you are.

Copy link