Leadership

Why Introverts Actually Make Better Managers

Sensitivity and seriousness are no longer barriers to boardroom success. In fact, they could actually be key to getting ahead.

By Natalie Cornish

Leadership

Sensitivity and seriousness are no longer barriers to boardroom success. In fact, they could actually be key to getting ahead.

By Natalie Cornish

Society has long been obsessed with extroverted personalities. Speaking up, and sounding confident, was once seen as key to getting on in the world of business. Now a book championing quiet, unassuming introverts is turning that thinking on its head.

The extrovert/introvert ideal is based on legendary psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, Carl Jung’s, Personality Theory. Introverts are drawn to thought and feeling, he said, while extroverts prefer people and activities. Our environment and experiences also impact our nature. It’s thought a third of us are introverts, although even Jung didn’t subscribe to the concept fully, saying: “There is no such thing as a pure extrovert or pure introvert. Such a man would be in a lunatic asylum”.

American author Susan Cain is a proud introvert, and she explores how those like her have long been undervalued in her book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.

“Our lives are shaped as profoundly by personality as by gender and race,” she explains. “And the single most important aspect of personality…is where we fall on the introvert-extrovert spectrum. Humanity would be unrecognisable, and vastly diminished, without both personality styles.”

So how does she believe the two personality types differ? Introverts, she says, “prefer to devote their social energies to close friends, colleagues and family. They listen more than they talk, think before they speak, and often express themselves better in writing. They tend to dislike conflict and small talk, and are relatively immune to the lures of wealth and fortune.”

Unlike the archetypal extrovert who “prefers action to contemplation, risk-taking to heed-taking, certainty to doubt”. And it’s these qualities that Cain believes makes introverts better managers.

Illustration: Patti Andrews

“Extroverts can be so intent on putting their own stamp that they risk losing others ideas along the way…We don’t need giant personalities to transform companies. We need leaders who build not their own egos but the institutions they run,” she says.

Research also suggests introverts pay more attention to detail, and are highly-sensitised. “They process information about their environment unusually deeply”, Susan says, “They tend to notice subtleties other people miss, are highly empathic and have unusually strong consciences.” All great qualities when leading from the front.

She argues that it’s time to stamp out extroversion as “an oppressive standard to which most of us feel we must conform”. After all some of the world’s greatest thinkers were, or are, introverts: Albert Einstein, Eleanor Roosevelt, George Orwell and JK Rowling.

Cain says introverts need to embrace and celebrate their personality type. When it comes to negotiations, for example, introverts will usually prepare more, rarely speak without thinking, actively listen and come across as perfectly reasonable rather than pushy. They’re also meticulous and methodical in the way they work through tasks.

 

“And yet, somewhat ironically, we have also seen that many executive leaders who appear to be extroverts are really introverts in disguise.”

 

“Introverts work more slowly and deliberately,” she says. “They like to focus on one task at a time and can have mighty powers of concentration.” This approach is essential when breaking down tasks on a project, or ensuring work is carried out to a high standard.

Secondly, Cain argues, society needs to stop seeing introverts as shy, awkward or lonesome because they don’t operate within the confines of the extrovert ideal. Yes, there is some overlap between these personality traits but, for the most part, introverts can be quiet in meetings, during a heated debate, or while others make small talk because they are over-stimulated by the situation. This a natural response for upto a third of the population, and must be taken into account.

Finally, businesses must become less focused on who is making the most noise and more attuned to who gets the best results.

“Introverts by their nature tend to have a few key passions in their lives and ascend into leadership positions out of a commitment to what they’re doing,” Cain says.

“They become leaders almost in spite of themselves.  What I would say as a takeaway is to think about the people in your organizations who are really passionate and capable and whether they have so called ‘natural’ leadership skills. I would think about grooming those people and getting them the training and development they need to assume leadership roles and really unlock their talent.”

It certainly isn’t conducive to expect introverts to prove themselves in an extroverted business world although many can, do and will.  

“We have seen so many highly talented people be overlooked for leadership roles because they didn’t fit the mold,” she adds.

“And yet, somewhat ironically, we have also seen that many executive leaders who appear to be extroverts are really introverts in disguise.”

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