Throughout my life I have lost count of the number of times people have said that I lack confidence and need to speak up more. It is a challenge that I have had to overcome since being a small child. I didn’t seem to fit into a world that appears to be filled with a society of extraverts, who were happy to speak up and say something that I was thinking before I felt like I had the opportunity to say it and that these people often went on to be very successful leaders. The trouble was that I didn’t think I fitted into the textbook definition of an introverted leader either. I would much rather go to a party and socialise with friends, than stay at home reading a book and I don’t enjoy being on my own. I love having things to do and being in busy places. But in those environments, I am definitely not the loudest voice in the room. How did I fit? What did that mean for my leadership style?
After recently reading Susan Cain’s book Quiet (Cain, 2012), I realised that I am probably an Ambivert (A social introvert) and sit somewhere in between an extravert and an introvert, which research actually shows that two thirds of people can identify with (Grant, 2013), which busted my perception that I live in a world of extraverts. I live in a world of people often pretending to be extraverts because society tells us that this is the most ‘desirable’ personality style. After some reflection, I realised that there have been just as many, if not more, successful leaders that are introverted or ambiverted through history, such as Elon Musk, Bill Gates and Rosa Parks.
Why is extraversion often seen as the more ‘desirable’ personality trait?
Susan Cain’s book (Cain, 2012) talks about a transition in history in the early 1900’s, where a change in consumer behaviour sparked a new way of products being marketed to consumers through using a more direct, hard sell approach. It was from this change in history that led people to think that someone who was incredibly outgoing and talkative has the ideal personality, because they made better sales people. This has filtered into many different aspects of our lives, including our education systems where often students are seen as high achievers if they have a high contribution rate in a lecture of 200 people. Research has also shown that the higher the position a leader has the more likely are to be extraverted (Grant, Gino & Hoffmann, 2010). Leaving quieter reflectors feeling that they needed to change something about their personality to be successful. But are louder more outgoing and extraverted leaders more successful?
What are the benefits of having an introverted and ambiverted leadership style?
Every leadership style has a set of unique strengths that can be leveraged to be successful. Here are 3 ways that quiet leaders can be more successful than their extraverted counter parts.
1. They are more likely to be effective in complex and unpredictable settings.
As quieter leaders tend to think before they speak, they are more likely to consider how a decision or situation may affect other people and therefore prefer to more deeply understand an issue through a calm and reassuring manner (Williams, 2019). Given the times that we are living through at the moment, this would suggest that we need more people to embrace their inner introvert to overcome the challenges the world faces.
2. They are more successful with proactive teams
Quieter leaders often focus on the development and growth of their team, making suggestions rather than telling people what to do. For a more proactive team, who are happy to think about what they could do differently, this leadership style is more successful than a directive leadership style (Grant, Gino and Hofmann, 2011).
3. They are great listeners
Introverts often get their energy from listening and understanding others, which means that they are likely to build deeper and stronger relationships with their team members, colleagues and direct reports. Decisions are therefore likely to take other perspectives into account rather than going with the initial instinct of the leader.
The perception of introverts not having leadership strengths should therefore be re-considered. We can see that many introverts can be successful in the environment that is right for them, where they can be authentic. I have loved the work that we have done to coach individuals and help them understand their strengths and how they can leverage them to become more successful leaders. I can see the real value that it adds when they make connections and have ah-ha moments. And it also helped me to realise my own leadership strengths.
This post was written by BeTalent. They are an exhibitor on the HRTech247 Talent & Performance Management floor of the Technology Hall. You can visit their virtual space here.
Cain, S. (2012). Quiet. Penguin Books.
Grant, A. (2013). Rethinking the Extraverted Sales Ideal. Psychological Science, 24(6), 1024-1030. https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797612463706
Grant, A., Gino, F., & Hofmann, D. (2010). The Hidden Advantages of Quiet Bosses. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved 4 June 2021, from https://hbr.org/2010/12/the-hidden-advantages-of-quiet-bosses.
Grant, A., Gino, F., & Hofmann, D. (2011). Reversing the Extraverted Leadership Advantage: The Role of Employee Proactivity. Academy Of Management Journal, 54(3), 528-550. https://doi.org/10.5465/amj.2011.61968043
Williams, R. (2019). Why Introverts May Be Better Leaders for Our Times. Medium. Retrieved 4 June 2021, from https://raybwilliams.medium.com/why-introverts-may-be-better-leaders-for-our-times-c25a52f3b614.