I’ve wanted to write this blog post for a while, and I was happy to see that the issue of introversion in leadership became a meaty topic at Leadership Chat Tuesday night.
I had raised it as an issue because a CEO I work with had said that a very senior level executive on her team was letting his introversion get in the way of his success. I had never heard of this happening before, and raised it as a question for the Leadership Chat Community. I think what I realized more than anything in the course of the chat is that there is a large degree of misunderstanding when it comes to what it means to be introverted vs. extraverted.
I remember when I was first hired as an Executive Leadership Trainer for the Fortune 500 company that I worked for and was given the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator instrument for the first time. I discovered I am an introvert.
This didn’t surprise me at all, but it did bother me when I was told that most CEOs and elected officials have, historically, been tall, male, extraverts. As a quite petite, female, introvert I felt a bit doomed. Although, truth be told, I’ve always believed that with the right amount of confidence and attitude you can have a very large presence wherever you go…
Having said all of that, I do believe it’s vitally important for introverts who wish to be in leadership roles to understand how their introversion is viewed by others, how it may impact teams, and to work to overcome additional challenges.
Let’s start by taking an accurate and critically important look at the difference between introversion and extraversion.
According to the Myers & Briggs Foundation:
Extraversion or Introversion
The first pair of psychological preferences is Extraversion and Introversion. Where do you put your attention and get your energy? Do you like to spend time in the outer world of people and things (Extraversion), or in your inner world of ideas and images (Introversion)?
Extraversion and Introversion as terms used by C. G. Jung explain different attitudes people use to direct their energy. These words have a meaning in psychology that is different from the way they are used in everyday language.
Everyone spends some time extraverting and some time introverting. Don’t confuse Introversion with shyness or reclusiveness. They are not related.
Take a minute to ask yourself which of the following descriptions seems more natural, effortless, and comfortable for you?
I like getting my energy from active involvement in events and having a lot of different activities. I’m excited when I’m around people and I like to energize other people. I like moving into action and making things happen. I generally feel at home in the world. I often understand a problem better when I can talk out loud about it and hear what others have to say.
The following statements generally apply to me:
- I am seen as “outgoing” or as a “people person.”
- I feel comfortable in groups and like working in them.
- I have a wide range of friends and know lots of people.
- I sometimes jump too quickly into an activity and don’t allow enough time to think it over.
- Before I start a project, I sometimes forget to stop and get clear on what I want to do and why.
I like getting my energy from dealing with the ideas, pictures, memories, and reactions that are inside my head, in my inner world. I often prefer doing things alone or with one or two people I feel comfortable with. I take time to reflect so that I have a clear idea of what I’ll be doing when I decide to act. Ideas are almost solid things for me. Sometimes I like the idea of something better than the real thing.
The following statements generally apply to me:
- I am seen as “reflective” or “reserved.”
- I feel comfortable being alone and like things I can do on my own.
- I prefer to know just a few people well.
- I sometimes spend too much time reflecting and don’t move into action quickly enough.
- I sometimes forget to check with the outside world to see if my ideas really fit the experience.
One of the most important sentences you just read, I believe, is the one that points out that everyone spends some time extraverting and some time introverting. Proof of this is the fact that Steve Woodruff (my Leadership Chat Co-Host/Founder) and I got to know each other well when we were two introverts amidst a sea of extraverts at a party. Since we’re both more comfortable in smaller groups, we found a table to sit at where we could have a very deep discussion about our lives and careers.
And yet, the Leadership Chat Community was quite surprised to find out on Tuesday night that we are both introverts – because, in the Leadership Chat setting, we act as extraverts in order to bring energy and motivation to the larger group and to (hopefully) inspire others to take the chat and bring it to life.
Thus, I believe that for an introvert to be a successful leader, they must do the following (given that this post is way too long already, I plan to take a much closer look at each of these in upcoming posts – please join me for that journey!):
1. Introverts must be willing to tap into their extraversion when it’s time to “rally the troops” and inspire their teams. They must recognize that they may be more reluctant to “move into action” than their extraverted counterparts, and be honest with themselves about this. Because “moving into action” is critical to a leader’s success, they must become adept at getting outside their comfort zone to make this happen.
2. Introverts must be willing to make themselves visible in the organization in order for their talents to be seen, recognized and rewarded. In my post, “The Introvert’s Guide to Getting Promoted: Step One” I talked about this and gave recommendations on how to make this happen.
3. Introverts must recognize that they have a different approach to decision making than extraverts, and should be comfortable being up front about this. Think about the following sentence from the Introversion description above:
I take time to reflect so that I have a clear idea of what I’ll be doing when I decide to act.
This is a different approach to decision making than our extraverted colleagues. I have had very candid conversations with those I work with and work for letting them know that I am not comfortable being asked to make a decision “on the spot.” Frequently in phone meetings when asked what I think, you will hear a long reflective pause from me. This actually makes some people think I don’t like their ideas – and I try to be very clear that I’m, “just thinking it through…”
I think the more introverts are willing to address this head on and view this as a strength – and to ask others to see it this way as well – the less they will be viewed as reserved or indecisive.
4. Introverts should embrace their love of ideas and images. I believe this leads to some of the most promising opportunities that our extraverted colleagues can help us bring to life. Embrace them and share them, because our love of ideas and images makes us great storytellers.
5. Introverts should use their comfort level with small groups to enhance their relationship building and advisory process. As I mentioned in the story about me and Steve at the party, we had a very deep conversation that led to our current collaboration because we were in our comfort, small-group zone. Introverts should use this knowledge of ourselves to our advantage by setting up regular small group meetings as a way to get to know our extended teams better, as a way to grow our advisory process, and as a way to expand our opportunities to embrace new ideas.
6. Finally, introverts must learn to embrace the outside world in order to be truly effective leaders. As much as the world within our heads can be a truly magical place, it’s imperative to embrace and understand the outside world in order to thoroughly understand our customers, competitors and industry trends. An inability to do so will prevent talented individuals from truly being visionary and strategic.
UPDATE: My new eBook, “The Introvert’s Guide to Success in Business and Leadership” is NOW AVAILABLE! You may Download it at www.TheIntrovertsGuide.net for only $7.99 or BUY IT at Amazon for Kindle!
This 60+ page eBook is for introverts who want to use their introversion to their advantage in business and leadership, and for extroverts who lead introverts and wish to be more effective leaders.
This “Introvert’s Guide” series was initially inspired by my friend Mack Collier’s “The Introvert’s Guide to Speaking” post, which in turn inspired my first “Introvert’s Guide” post entitled, “You’re Just Not That Into Me: The Introvert’s Guide to Attending a Conference.”
Photo is Walking Alone by Jucanils.