It’s time to do away with tired, over-used stereotypes. Introverts are not complete social recluses; neither are they incapable of prolonged social interaction.
While society by and large favours extroverts, introverts bring their own strengths to the table, particularly when it comes to management.
Leadership tends to be construed as a highly extroverted endeavour. Management, for one, is essentially the art of relating and influencing others. While it might sound like it’s rigged for extroverts so that they can climb smoothly up the corporate ladder, introverts can make excellent managers as well.
In fact, they can be far more effective leaders than their extroverted counterparts. Cases in point: Richard Branson, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg. Here’s why.
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Leadership has a lot in common with gardening. Seasoned gardeners know that different plants have different needs in terms of sunlight, water, soil conditions, and so on.
Similarly, the best leaders know their people well enough to know what every team member needs and desires at work and in their lives. This is only possible because they make it a point to pay attention to and listen to each of them. That’s why introverts excel in this regard; they’re often pre-disposed towards listening more than talking.
Richard Branson himself has repeatedly pinpointed listening as the most critical leadership trait, saying that leaders need to “listen more than [they talk]”; you learn by listening to others, not by talking.
People want to know that their leaders are genuinely paying attention to them. Having an open-door policy alone, for example, isn’t sufficient to let people know that their inputs and welfare are valued. Leaders who say they’re always open to feedback but don’t listen when push comes to shove are likely to lose respect fast.
In contrast, giving credence to people’s input is an introvert’s strong suit. They tend to be more focused on establishing stronger, more meaningful, personal relationships as opposed to having many flimsy acquaintances.
That doesn’t just make them better listeners, it also makes them excellent leaders; good one-to-one relationships form the basis of effective management.
Introverts generally have a more deliberative thinking style than extroverts. This is crucial in the workplace, especially for management. Of the two new qualities of effective management that Google recently added to its Project Oxygen findings, one is “strong decision-making skills.”
That’s where introverts excel; since they are built to be more self-reflective and thoughtful, they also tend to put much more thought into decision-making. They’re far less prone to the rash impulsivity that tends to characterise bad decision-makers.
It’s important to note that this doesn’t mean they’re indecisive. Introverts simply prefer to be comprehensive in their considerations when they’re deciding on a course of action. Once they’ve made up their minds, though, they do so with surety and firmness.
Additionally, it also makes them better at risk-taking. They’re smarter and more intelligent risks because of their deliberative cognitive styles, which gives them a leg up when it comes to innovation.
Because of their self-reflective and observant natures, introverts generally find it much easier to be more sensitive and attuned to others’ feelings.
That puts introverted leaders at a great advantage; empathy is undoubtedly the most essential skill that a leader can have. It’s not as difficult for them to put themselves in someone else’s shoes and understand different perspectives.
Research has shown that in any team, there are always team members who are much more dominant than others. Introverted leaders can help make quieter and less participative members feel more welcome, psychologically safe, and included in the process of teamwork.
Most people associate the word “coach” with aggressiveness and brusque motivation. It seems hardly compatible with introverted personality types. However, the most important skill for a coach isn’t shouting at people till they churn out results. It’s knowing how to motivate others, and this isn’t dependent on personality.
Because of how attuned they are to other people’s emotions and characters, introverts make excellent coaches. They can, for example, better identify insecurities that might hold back their people. Since they understand that different people thrive in different conditions, they’re also more adept at personalising their motivation strategies to each team member.
True leaders put their people before themselves because they understand that success is contingent on helping their people grow. Similarly, introverts tend to be less motivated by the power and attention that leadership affords them, taking it more as a responsibility than a privilege.
As opposed to extroverts who tend to lead at the helm, introverts excel at leading from behind, a leadership style championed by everyone from Nelson Mandela to Barack Obama. Mandela said it best: “It is better to lead from behind and put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership.”