“I’m not sure I can be a manager, because I am an introvert.” said Anjali. This was her response when I asked about her career plans
Anjali’s view on things is common.
We often picture a leader as the quintessential Alpha male or female- flamboyant, visible and extroverted. It is easy to assume that to be a leader these qualities are critical. For people who don’t “naturally” have these traits, it can be daunting to step into leadership. Introverts often tend to write-off leadership as a career option without even thinking about it.
Why people assume leadership equals being extroverted
The internal conditioning often starts early. At school and in the playground, the loudest and bossiest kid in class, most often gets his/her way. So quiet and introverted kids assume that to be a prefect or class captain you need to be loud. Organisations and media often project a leader as being an extrovert. A lot of political leaders are great orators and socially proficient. In traditional businesses like construction or shop floor management the leader or supervisor often needs to be commanding and visible. The image of the extrovert leader holds true in most of these circumstances but in the white collared jobs of today that require thinking over physical repetitive tasks this is not the case.
As someone who works with supporting leaders who are already successful I find that leadership and power are never about how loudly and frequently you express your ideas to other. It is about emotional stability, clarity of thought, depth of creativity and the confidence you exhibit. Being an extrovert is a “good to have” and not a “need to have” in leadership.
Confusing introvert with lack of confidence.
A lot of people confuse lack of confidence with being an introvert and use the two terms as interchangeable. This is not correct.
The term “introvert” describes a person who tends to turn inward mentally. Introverts sometimes avoid large groups of people and feel more energized by time alone. The opposite of an introvert is an extrovert, who finds energy in interactions with others.
“Confidence” on the other hand is the trust or faith that you have in yourself and your abilities.
Being an introvert does not mean you don’t trust yourself to interact with others. It just means that you prefer not to.
Here’s why introverts can make strong leaders
Introverts are known to have a higher EQ: Unlike the industrial era where the workplace was full of tasks that required minimal thinking the workforce of today needs to be physically, mentally and emotionally involved in what they do. Leadership today requires the leader to be able to emote with the team and build an environment where creativity can prosper. It has been proven time and again that in leadership emotional quotient trumps intelligence quotient. Studies show that introverts tend towards a higher EQ.
When you have a creative, energetic work force, an introvert is going to draw out that energy better.- Laurie Helgoe
They are used to working alone. By definition introverts prefer to work alone. Leadership, as any successful leader will tell you is a lonely place to work from. Even if you have experts and advisors to help and support you, as a leader the accountability and ownership of your decisions is yours alone. As such it is important for a leader to be comfortable with being on their own. If you are used to working alone it will always be your advantage.
Introverts are excellent listeners. The biggest challenge I often face when working with leaders is that they tend to be bad listeners. They are so used to being listened to that they struggle to put their own thoughts and ideas on the side to give space for another’s thoughts. Introverts on the other hand are great listeners. In a leadership role this is a huge asset because it helps you gather information and build consensus. People always value being listened to and this is a great skill for building rapport with teams.
They spend significant time thinking things over: Introverts spend a lot of time thinking and analyzing. Clarity of thought is one of the most critical skills that a leader must possess. Only when your thoughts are clear you are able set a clear path to lead your business and team.
They have a calming effect on the team: Introverts are more approachable and have a calming presence. While people get easily intimidated by an extroverted leader, introverted leadership gives place for people to voice their concerns, share their ideas and develop their creativity. When people feel safe their creativity is easily expressed.
There’s zero correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas. We don’t need giant personalities to transform companies. We need leaders who build not their own egos but the institutions they run. ― Susan Cain