“65% of senior corporate executives viewed introversion as a barrier to leadership.” — Harvard Business Review
I was interviewed for a podcast yesterday and we discussed my belief that introversion can actually be a strength. For far too long, it has been considered a weakness and a career-limiting issue. During the earlier years of my career, I was led to believe that being introverted meant that there was no hope for me to move into management either.
Wrong, wrong, wrong!
Some of you reading this may be introverted yourselves. Or, you at least know that you’re a little closer to that end of the Introversion/Extroversion scale. It’s certainly not black and white.
The reality is that your introversion is most likely coupled with a number of important strengths that can help you be more successful in your career and give you some advantages as a leader. The key is to find a company environment that respects your introversion and enables you to do your best work (e.g., recognizing that sometimes you need to work alone to be creative and effective).
In addition, you need to work for someone who will value your unique strengths as a leader and not see them as weaknesses that need to be eliminated. I’m seeing mounting evidence that more companies are seeking out managers and leaders with these soft skills. The old model of leadership certainly didn’t encourage those skills, but smart companies have seen that the new workforce demands them.
For example, introverted leaders have a tendency to also have these strengths:
Empathy and a real ability to listen and understand
Leading with a coaching style
Creating and articulating a strategic vision
Comfort with the solitude required to generate innovative ideas
Passion for reading, research, and deep thinking
Mentoring and growing others
On the other hand, if you are an extrovert, I’m sure that you work with a number of introverts and may even manage them. Unlike some of my past managers, I hope that you realize that they are just as capable of turning into excellent managers and leaders as your more extroverted employees.
But, they do require a different style of management, work environment and processes, and recognition systems. For example, most introverted employees will benefit greatly from a work-from-home day every week. That’s when they will be their most productive and creative. Sadly, some companies have been eliminating work from home and remote positions because they want to increase collaboration and those serendipitous water cooler conversations, which is like throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
Introversion isn’t a weakness to be managed. Introverted employees shouldn’t need to force themselves to behave like extroverts in order to get promoted. Those introverts have some hidden strengths that can be a real asset if you’re willing to invest in them in the right way.
What I've been reading, writing, and watching
Read my more detailed article on How to Leverage Introversion as a Career Strength
Check out Susan Cain’s book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (affiliate link)
Susan also has a useful personality test if you’re not sure if you truly are an introvert or extrovert
She gave a great TED talk on this topic if you haven’t seen it already
An interesting Harvard Business Review article, The Hidden Advantages of Quiet Bosses