Quiet Leadership: 3 Ways Being an Introvert Strengthens Your Leadership
Valuing Extroverts at the Expense of Introverts
As a life-long introvert, I look back on my days in school plagued by presentations, group work and those dreaded debates and realize just how much extroverts are valued in our society. The significant amount of discomfort I experienced year after year in school as we had to practice public speaking over and over in its various forms was definitely a key indicator that extroverts are the chosen leaders in our society. Our nation is currently structured for individuals with extrovert tendencies to excel or at least be the ones that are seen and valued. Team building learning in our public schools, open work spaces, and even the Harvard Business School itself are well known examples of valuing extroverted characteristics instead of (and sometimes even at the expense of) introverted characteristics.
A brief look at our society’s foundation and evolution gives perspective to the value of extrovert and introvert characteristics. Historically Americans tend to value action. Early colonists shaped a nation acting on their beliefs. Character was celebrated by early Americans with qualities like integrity, duty, citizenship, honor, and reputation. In the late 19th to early 20th centuries, however, we moved away from the virtues of character toward valuing personality. Desirable personality attributes became described as magnetic, dominant, forceful, and energetic. Popular self-help courses, like Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” and the emerging media of the 20th century forever changed the way we view ourselves and others. In the West we subscribe to an individualistic philosophy where we speak up and speak out. Contrast this with many Asian cultures where immense value is placed on creating harmony within a group such as a community or corporation. What looks to the West as Asian deference, could also be characterized as a culture focused on honoring relationships and supporting harmony.
Interestingly, our propensity to be quiet or talkative, careful or unrestrained, could be partly influenced by our mighty civilization. However, like all traits, the tendencies of introvert and extrovert are also just as heritable. Leaders can come from any background and many personality types. While there are many skills and qualities associated with leadership, there is no single definition of what a leader is. It is estimated that 40-60% of our population could be identified as introverts. So it is in the best interest of our workplaces, communities and homes to be aware of the strengths and contributions of quiet leaders.
3 Introvert Qualities that Strengthen Leadership
1. Humility promotes leadership growth.
Influential management theorist, Jim Collins, set out to study what characteristics made a company outperform the competition. Collins looked at eleven stand out companies. He wanted to ignore leadership because that seemed like a very simplistic answer. But when he reviewed his data, what emerged from his study was that the “standout” commonality in all was the nature of their CEO. All eleven of these leaders were described by coworkers as quiet, humble, reserved, shy, gracious, mild-mannered, self-effacing, or understated. Collins found that exceptional leaders were not known for their charisma but for humility and intense professional resolve. For example, Darwin Smith, in twenty years as CEO, led Kimberly-Clarke into the world’s leading paper company. Smith, himself, described his strategy as always trying to be qualified for the job. He used his natural humble disposition to always look for ways to grow as a leader and bring those around him along.
2. Quiet leadership promotes a circle of proactivity.
While we often think of leaders as being more of an extrovert type with forceful and charismatic tendencies, Jim Collins’ study found that quiet people make great leaders as well. An individual has a host of factors influencing their lens of the world and is therefore not just one trait or another but does gravitate toward some strengths more naturally than others. As a leader more interested in listening and less concerned with controlling the social situation, quiet leadership supports employees participation in key decisions and implements their suggestions. A quiet leader recognizes the importance of subordinates’ talents and creativity by giving them significant and meaningful opportunities that other leaders may keep for themselves. This kind of leadership creates a circle of proactivity that increases self initiation and efficiency.
3. Cool, Calm and Collected is a leadership superpower.
Rarely are extroverts described as “even keeled”. Often what leads to their charismatic leadership is passion. We all need a little extroverted leadership to help us buy into a new vision, initiative, or program, but what steadies the day to day operations of a small business or major corporation is a composed leader. Introverts are not often characterized as impulsive reactionaries but take time to process a situation before moving forward. To handle the many twists and turns of our post-pandemic world in a cool, calm and collected way means introverts are the leaders made for today’s world.
No matter your personality predisposition, the reality is we are more than any one trait or characterization. These various strengths make for dynamic leadership in an ever changing workplace.
To further explore discussion on extrovert and introvert tendencies enjoy the book Quiet, The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain which this article is based on.
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