Leadership

Do introverts make good leaders?

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Do introverts make good leaders?
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Do introverts make good leaders?

Well, I think introverts can do quite well. If you’re clever you can learn to get the benefits of being an introvert…” – Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft.

Most of us know a great leader when we see or work with one. But when we try to pinpoint the qualities that make a good leader, we’ll all have our own ideas about what’s really important. There is no one type of person that fits the bill—great leaders come from all walks of life and have all kinds of personality traits.

Some are extroverts with outgoing personalities, while others are introverts – quiet, considered, and introspective. Introverts can certainly be leaders. But can they actually excel in this position?

Because we often associate loudness with confidence and introverts tend to be quieter than extroverts, people sometimes wonder whether introverts can be successful leaders. Extroverts might write introverts off as too shy and retiring to succeed in leadership roles, and introverts themselves might doubt their own abilities. The fact is, though, introversion is no barrier to leadership and can even be an advantage.

Alright, but what is an introvert?

Alright, but what is an introvert?

We hear the terms ‘introvert’ and ‘extrovert’ a lot these days, but there is some confusion about what they really mean. Put simply, an introvert is someone who expends energy in social situations and gains energy when they’re on their own. Quite often, introverts are seen as a deviation from the more desirable temperament—extroverts, the people who gain energy in social situations and lose it when alone.

Introverts vs. extroverts

Imagine that every person has an ‘energy tank’ and wakes up every day with their tank half-full. An introvert would top their tank up for the day by spending some time alone in the morning. Maybe they’d meditate or go for a run, take the dog for a walk or simply enjoy a quiet breakfast. As they interact with other people throughout the day, the introvert’s tank empties. Without that alone time in the morning to fill up their tank, they might find they run out of energy before the end of the day.

On the other hand, an extrovert would fill up their tank by seeking out contact with other people as soon as they could, and interactions with other people throughout the day would help them keep their tank topped up. Long periods alone or of enforced quiet can be draining for extroverts, causing their tanks to empty more quickly.

Introversion isn’t about shyness or a lack of social skills—it’s a trait that we’re born with, like the color of our eyes. Although it is sometimes viewed as a negative quality or disadvantage, people are increasingly coming to embrace the benefits and positive traits of introversion, and famous introverts are speaking up about the unique attributes that come with it.

Are we all either introverts or extroverts?

Are we all either introverts or extroverts?

Although we tend to talk about introversion and extroversion as entirely separate, in reality, most of us fall somewhere on a scale between extreme introversion at one end and extreme extroversion at the other.

We might move further towards one side or the other in different situations – for example, a person might be very quiet in a group of 20 people but turn into an unstoppable chat machine when alone with their two best friends.

Is confidence an extrovert trait?

Many people conflate introversion with shyness or a lack of confidence. This is a mistake. While introverts can be shy and lacking in confidence, so can extroverts.

For example, we might perceive an introvert as less confident because they don’t talk much in meetings and an extrovert as very confident because they talk a lot, but the two conclusions don’t follow. Some people talk a lot when they’re nervous; others get quiet. Some people don’t speak until they have something important to say – but when they do speak, they are perfectly confident – and it shows.

Can we always tell an introvert from an extrovert?

The simple answer is no. Although it might seem easy to tell, it isn’t always. For one thing, historically, introversion was often looked down upon because it doesn’t fit the traditional idea of what it means to be a leader. As a result, many introverts develop strategies to disguise their introversion (often leading to burnout or mental health problems). Add to this the fact that the introvert/extrovert spectrum is complex, and most of us are a mixture of both, and it becomes pretty difficult to tell one from the other reliably.

What makes a good leader?

What makes a good leader?

Although no personality type is ‘best’ for leadership, and all great leaders have their individual styles of running things, there are some skills and qualities that many share. In general, these skills are not tied to introversion or extroversion, although some might come more naturally for introverts and others for extroverts. Similarly, one group might find some of the skills more of a challenge than the other.

Let’s look at a few of the traits that are most often cited as making a great leader:

  • Honesty: Maybe this one should go without saying, but an effective leader is honest with themselves and their team.
  • Integrity: A good leader can be trusted to do the right thing, even under challenging circumstances.
  • Communication: Successful leaders know how to put their points across and are willing to listen to others’ views.
  • Confidence: Great leaders have confidence in themselves without being arrogant.
  • Decisiveness: Effective leaders assess the situation and make decisions when necessary.
  • Stability: Keeping calm and sticking to the plan is vital in leadership, especially when things get rough.

Why introverts make good leaders

A great leader has to motivate their team, whatever their personality. Introvert leaders can draw on their innate qualities to get the best from their people and often inspire great loyalty.

Generally speaking, introverted leaders take their time to think through every action and never react unthinkingly. They watch and listen, putting the needs of their team before their own. They are calm, don’t try to make changes for no reason, and allow their people to shine.

Seven traits of introvert leaders

Seven traits of introvert leaders

Of course, everyone is different, and no two people have the same personality, even if they are both introverts. But there are some qualities that many introverts possess that give them a great chance of being successful leaders. For example, the most effective introvert leaders will likely show some or all of the following traits:

  • Thoughtful: Introverts tend to think ideas through thoroughly before implementing them or even talking about them. They also choose their words carefully in conversation and avoid rushing into decisions or jumping to conclusions.
  • Good listener: It won’t be hard to get your point across with an introvert leader. They’ll be happy to hear you out and take your point on board. They’re also unlikely to offer their judgments, advice, or solutions without thinking about them very carefully first.
  • Calm under pressure: A leader must keep a cool head when things get crazy, and many introverts possess this quality. Their calm demeanor makes introverted leaders especially effective when the heat is on.
  • Values quality over quantity: Introverted leaders know that more, faster, or louder doesn’t always mean better. They understand that good ideas take time to come to fruition and are happy to give their teams the time and space they need.
  • Gives credit where it’s due: Introverts don’t tend to seek out the limelight, so they are unlikely to try to steal it from others. They’re happy to acknowledge a good job and be fair when it comes to giving credit and sharing success.
  • Focused and detail-oriented: Their introspective nature means introverts spend plenty of time thinking about details and can focus on the matter at hand. They don’t get distracted easily and love to unpick complex problems.
  • Strategic thinker: Carefully assessing situations and developing plans comes naturally to many introverts – clearly a valuable quality in a leader!

Famous introvert leaders

Once you start looking, you’ll find famous introverts everywhere. Some of the most successful leaders throughout history have identified as introverts, including:

  • Nelson Mandela: Former South African president and anti-apartheid freedom fighter Nelson Mandela was a quiet man who changed the world. Standing up for his beliefs in the face of extraordinary adversity, his dignified attitude continues to inspire.
  • Angela Merkel: Germany’s first female chancellor Angela Merkel has a quiet kind of power. Rarely raising her voice or showing much emotion at all, Merkel’s patient and calm demeanor helped her lead the country for over 15 years.
  • Tsai Ing-wen: The first female president of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen is a strong-willed yet softly spoken leader who values her privacy but is unafraid to stand up for her values and her people.
  • Warren Buffett: One of the world’s most successful investors, Warren Buffet had to work hard to develop his people skills. A quiet yet entrepreneurial child, he focused on making his voice heard in order to convince people of his ideas.
  • Bill Gates: Founder of Microsoft and co-founder of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Bill Gates is one of the most successful introverts around. He credits following his passion for computers as being instrumental in his success.

Five tips for successful leadership as an introvert

Five tips for successful leadership as an introvert

Although for introverted people it can sometimes feel like the world is built for extroverts, by extroverts, leadership is challenging for everyone. No one is born with the skills to be an exceptional leader, but we can all develop our strengths to become the best leader we can be. So, let’s look at a few ideas on how to be an introvert leader in a noisy world:

  1. Appreciate your strengths: Be true to yourself and don’t fall into the ‘impostor’ trap. To be a successful leader, you need to believe in yourself. As an introvert, that means understanding the qualities that can make you a great leader and nurturing them. If you try to suppress your introvert tendencies or fake a different personality, the cracks will eventually show, and you’ll struggle to become the brilliant leader that you could be.
  2. Challenge yourself: Nobody’s perfect, and we all have skills that could use some work. For introverts, networking and public speaking are often a challenge. Instead of shying away from these aspects of leadership, embrace them. View them as a way to round out your skillset, and get practicing! It might seem like everyone has a handle on these things but you, but in reality, most people struggle with them.
  3. Give yourself time to recharge: Remember your ‘energy tank’? Make space each day to top it up. That could mean taking a couple of minutes out every hour for breathing exercises, taking a walk during your lunch break, or enjoying a nap in the afternoon. Do whatever you need to carve out the space in your day to give yourself the time alone that you need. It’s not lazy or selfish; it’s what you need to thrive.
  4. Set boundaries: Sometimes, it can be hard for an introvert to say no. But when our attention is pulled in twenty directions at once, we can’t give our best.

    To be a great leader, you’ll have to get comfortable with setting and enforcing boundaries. That might mean letting your team know not to come to you at certain times of the day or blocking out a few hours in the evening to recharge.

  5. Embrace working online: Many of us have had a taste of remote working over the past couple of years. While some people struggle with a sense of isolation, many introverts thrive in this environment. Working with a remote team could bring out the leadership qualities in you!

In Conclusion

There are all kinds of leaders, and there is no single ‘ideal’ when it comes to leadership. Introverts tend to have various skills and traits that can enable them to be successful leaders, and people are becoming increasingly accepting of and interested in leadership styles outside of the old-fashioned norms. Introverts can make incredibly successful leaders by understanding and harnessing their strengths and developing their skills – just ask Bill Gates, Angela Merkel, or Warren Buffett.

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