When you think of Business Leaders, do you think of Elon Musk, Sir Alan Sugar, and Theo Paphitis? There is a certain stereotype which comes to mind when talking about the leadership required to run your own business. And it is a stereotype that holds people back from starting up a business. And it shouldn’t.
There have been studies done – one by Adam Grant at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, which showed that introverts can be MORE successful leaders than their extrovert counterparts.
Why is that the case?
Well, extroverts tend to like to be the centre of attention and can feel threatened by other people’s ideas, whereas introverts are often better at listening and taking in information from their teams and then letting their teams take the credit. Which leads to more of the same.
There is a caveat to that though. And it comes down to the makeup of the team. Where the team was young or not proactive – they were waiting to be told what to do – the extrovert manager could inspire them into action. And in those teams, there was a 16% uptake.
In teams where the individuals were proactive, the introverted leader got more out of them, because they were less likely to need to put ‘their own stamp on everything’ and more likely to listen and encourage ideas from their teams.
The more leaders listen to their teams and empower them to make decisions, the better decisions the individuals on those teams make, and the more time the leader has for reflection and creativity.
Talking of creativity, introverts tend to be very creative. Think Albert Einstein, JK Rowling and Steve Wozniak. And many good things come from that. Creativity leads to better decision making and also to being inspirational. Who doesn’t want to be around someone inspirational?
Introverts also tend to be more thoughtful and prepared, less likely to take unconsidered risks. Some put the financial crash of 2008 down to extroverts taking unnecessary risks. Some of the ‘introverts’ who cautioned against certain actions were ignored because they didn’t shout loud enough.
Well, maybe that’s a lesson for introverts.
And let’s make something clear. ‘Introvert’ doesn’t mean shy. Shy people fear social judgement. Introverts don’t, they just get their energy for quiet and calm environments, rather than the parties or social interactions that energise extroverts.
And talking about calmness – that is another characteristic of introverts.
Calmness is a fantastic quality to have as a Leader.
When the doodie hits the fan, extroverts may shout, lose their temper, point accusatory fingers and generally show their frustration. Introverts remain calm.
Which helps them in several ways. Firstly, they are able to look at the situation objectively and not make rash or emotional decisions. Secondly, their demeanour is a massive help to the people around them. If your boss is showing signs of stress, how much more stressful is that for an employee?
If your boss is calm when problems arise, then you are more likely to also remain calm and to objectively search for solutions rather then waste your energy coming up with ‘your defence’ (if it is a problem that you might be blamed for) or waste your time worrying about your job or the company.
Of course, not all introverts are great leaders and not all extroverts are bad leaders. One thing is true though. It is easier to climb the ladder in corporate land as an extrovert. There are estimates that around 60% of senior management are extroverts. Now whether that is because people like ‘people like them’ or whether it is because extroverts are generally more visible is hard to say. Probably a combination of both.
Can introverts learn to be more extrovert and vice versa?
Yes of course, and they absolutely should. Because no one style fits all situations. So sometimes the introverts need to step up and take charge, and sometimes they need to step out of their comfort zones and go talk to people at the coffee machine or in the network meeting. Equally, sometimes extroverts benefit from being quiet and listening more.
But with 40% of current leaders in business classifying themselves as Introverts, we already have many examples of great introverted leaders.
The ideal may be to strive to be an “ambivert”, someone who is equally introverted and extroverted (even if one of those is learned behaviour).
So, before your inner voice tells you that you can’t be a good manager or start your own business as an introvert, remember that is just F.E.A.R. (false evidence appearing real). The truth is you can be the leader you want to be as an introvert.
Being a great leader has not much to do with being an extrovert or an introvert. It comes down to some simple leadership principles, like listening, creativity, planning, risk assessment and motivating staff. Which can all be learned.
If you need some help with that or just a place to exchange ideas – go join the Quiet Leaders With Impact Facebook Group here.