I understand the insecurity that comes with being an introvert and a leader. The assumption that extroverts make better leaders hasn’t just permeated our culture, it’s also made its way into my mind, and over the years I’ve often worried I didn’t have what it took to be a leader because of my quietness or my desire to spend time alone.
Just look around at the people we most often trust to take leadership roles, and you’ll see the bias at work.
We expect them to be charismatic, gregarious, and well-spoken.
Recently Susan Cain released a book called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking where she is challenging, for maybe the first time, what she calls the Extrovert Ideal - our hidden assumption that extroverts are smarter, more capable, or they make better leaders.
Some of the things Cain shared made me realize how introverts are just as capable of leading — they have something to offer to leadership roles extroverts never could.
Introverts are highly empathetic
The research here is brand new and still in need of some developments, but Cain shares how researchers are finding a connection between a quality she calls sensitivity and introversion.
Sensitivity includes many distinguishable traits — including excitability and over-stimulation, hence an introvert's drive to spend time alone. It is precisely this sensitivity that also makes introverts highly sensitive to others.
Introverts are good at noticing.
Good at listening.
Good at understanding how someone else feels.
I don’t know about you, but I want people with strong empathy on a team of leaders directing me.
Introverts think before they act
Study after study shows how extroverts are reward-driven, which means they’ll keep charging after an objective even when faced with seemingly insurmountable obstacles or even failure.
This is, of course, a strength of its own, but the strength introverts bring to the table is that especially after some kind of failure, or when faced with an obstacle — introverts tend to slow down.
They think through their options and are hesitant to rush, so they won’t make any errors as they’re moving forward.
Introverts are highly creative
Solitude is a catalyst for creativity, and as such, introverts tend to bring a creativity to the leadership table their extroverted counterparts don’t have.
Of course, extroverts can be creative, too (introversion and extroversion exist on a continuum, and aren’t black and white), but when trying to solve a problem or come up with an innovative solution to some frustration — introverts are far more likely to take time and space to come up with the most effective solution possible.
Finally, Introverts lead with what Cain calls “Soft Power”
While this kind of “power” hasn’t always held weight in our culture, there have been places and spaces where people of extreme influence have been sensitive and introverted. The power they wield might not be commanding or controlling, but it is very compelling.
We can’t help but relate to them, respect them, want to follow them.
Ghandi is one example. Eleanor Roosevelt is another.
Perhaps part of the reason for this is they are people of few words, so they have to speak with their actions. We follow them because their life is compelling, and we can see their example playing out right in front of us.
Again, extroverts can make great leaders as much as introverts do. The skills we bring to the table — introverts and extroverts together — are what give us the tools to execute the vision and mission set before us.
If you’re an introvert, don’t disqualify yourself from leadership positions.
Don’t feel insecure in your position (or your call) as a leader.
We need you.