Connecting introversion and leadership isn’t obvious. A lot of people assume that an introvert cannot be good at communicating, influencing, managing and inspiring. A lot of people might be wrong.
An introvert, by definition, is someone who is reserved or shy, someone “whose attention and interests are directed toward one’s own thoughts and feelings.” (Source) So by the very definition, it’s not outlandish that people might think that introversion is an unlikely character trait for a successful leader.
Here are a few reasons, however, which show that being an introvert does not necessarily make leadership impossible:
Introverts are more careful
Whereas an extrovert might run headlong into a new project or a new idea, an introvert is more likely to give it careful consideration first. While an extrovert might spit out a comment without thinking of the consequences, an introvert will always consider their words more carefully. This gives the impression of not being enthusiastic or overly passionate when in fact, this kind of thoughtful deliberation is precisely what you want to see in a leader.
Speed in action, thought and word is often seen as competent and strong. There is value in taking time to make sure that the decisions being made are the right ones. The credibility that a good decision will build is worth a lot more to a leader than being ‘first’, in the long run.
Introverts have incredible listening skills
Whereas many, though not by all means all, extroverts are partial to the sound of their own voice, introverts are less likely to speak. Idle small talk is not their forte, so an introvert will spend more time listening to those around them, absorbing what is being said. Active listening skills are essential for an effective leader, and while someone who is not a good listener will likely spend their non-speaking time formulating their next statement, an introvert will actually be hearing the words being said to them.
Letting others do the talking can lead to a lot of insight, not just into issues and problems, but in the social dynamics of team members and the effectiveness of groups. A team that is led by someone who is always talking, who is always providing the ‘solutions’, will never think for themselves.
Introverts have no issue being the cheese that stands alone
Leaders are very often on their own since the proverbial buck stops with them. They are responsible, ultimately, for their team and the consequences of any actions taken by their team. But working and standing alone aren’t new concepts to any introvert, and in fact, many relish the solitude. They work best on their own, and while they are often fully capable of working on a team, their most creative and effective work is done alone.
The downtime an introvert requires in between bouts of managing issues and people is what provides them with the ability to be more reflective rather than reactive. It’s more of a slow-moving process of action, but this leads to less quick, knee-jerk decisions, which can sometimes have unintended but nonetheless trying consequences.
Introverts can be calm versus crazed
An introvert is far more likely to seem calm, even during a crisis. And that can be a good thing. Someone who is always in panic mode, seemingly crazed and ready to pounce, is not projecting stability and control, two things that people will look for in a leader. That control builds trust and trusting in a leader allows both team members and external partners to feel confident in the decisions being made and actions being taken.
Collaboration and depth are key for introverts
Whereas an extrovert is more likely to see their judgment and decisions as obvious and clear, not requiring the participation of others, an introvert will look to a more collaborative approach. While they are quite happy standing alone, as I said above, they would prefer people on their team be part of the decision, not just the receivers.
And while an extrovert might be keen to cover all the bases/goals/deliverables that they can, covering things on a more superficial level, an introvert will be more interested in delving in depth into issues. Depending on what it is that they are dealing with, each approach can have positive outcomes.
Do you consider yourself to be an introvert or an extrovert?