AN INTROVERTED LEADER – BUILDING STRENGTH QUIETLY

Is it an essential thing that you spend time with yourself? Do you feel like your voice is not being heard enough or that you are sometimes passed over for a work opportunity even though you possess the required skills? If the answer is yes, then you might be an introvert. It does not mean that you don’t like people or will not collaborate with others. When we compare your energy to a battery, an extrovert might recharge his/her energy by spending time with others, but an introvert might draw energy from within him/herself.

A myth that has always been around in the business world is that introverts cannot be good leaders. We always have this view of leaders being outgoing, gregarious, outspoken, etc. and if someone does not match this view, we think they might not be qualified to be a leader. A lot of people assume that “introversion” is a bad quality in leaders or as a barrier to leadership.

The categorization of individuals into personality types – “Introverts and Extroverts” – was done in the 1920s by Carl Jung. Introverts were said to be those people who were shy, kept to themselves, and would rather spend time with themselves than socialize with others. On the other hand, extroverts were said to be people who were gregarious, energetic, and liked to spend time with people always. However, it was noted that while these two categories were at two ends of the spectrum, people did not always fall into either of the categories. There were people who showcased traits of both personality types. It is very rare to have somebody who is a pure introvert or extrovert. Most of them fall into the category of “Ambivert”. Even if you take a personality test like Myers-Briggs, etc. it may show a person which category a majority of their traits may fall into, not their exact personality type.

Yet, when it comes to the business world, there is a lot of bias existent against people who fall into the category of an introvert. In studies that have been conducted, extroversion has been seen as one of the most important skills or traits that a leader should possess. Why is that so? This is because it has a lot to do with how we think about leaders and leadership. A basic definition of leadership is “the process of influencing others in a manner that enhances their contribution to the realization of group goals.” In the course of time, the definition and meaning of a good leader have changed from someone who is focused on collective success and team building to a person who is more focused on being outspoken and building a better network.  Many studies have been done over the course of the years to identify the traits of a good leader: Inspiring others, motivating others, showcasing honesty and high integrity, technical and professional expertise, result-driven, powerful communication, team development, people-oriented, strategic approach towards analyzing problems and solving them.

These skills are something that introverts also possess and exhibit. None of these go against the nature of an introvert. It might seem that introverts do not want to be leaders. That is not always the case. If we look at famous people like Mahatma Gandhi, Michael Jordan, and Audrey Hepburn and even in the business world, founders like Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and Warren Buffet have identified themselves as Introverts. Introverts are emerging as leaders in every arena. Another thing that happens very commonly in the business world is that charisma gets associated with effective leadership. Even if someone who is very charismatic gets hired for a top role in an organization – it has no correlation with how the person will perform. In this case, introverted individuals might have an advantage because they tend to be more in tune with subtle sensory and emotional cues of other individuals, which helps them when working on complex situations as well. While an introvert might not be actively responding to the entire conversation, it does not mean that he or she is not listening to what is being said and processing it. Research suggests that introverts are methodical thinkers and enter a conversation with powerful words leading to powerful conversations.  This method of communicating is really beneficial in leadership. While it may be true that introverts work alone better, they do work well towards a collaborative goal, in a dynamic setting. In research conducted by Harvard, it was found that extrovert leaders are great at managing passive teams (teams who just follow what the leader says) and introverts are better at leading teams that are proactive in which everybody has a say in how the team functions and contributes ideas. This may be because introverts may not feel threatened by the collaborative environment in which the team is working while being more amenable to feedback and suggestions.

As an introvert, it might feel like you are an outsider because the views and opinions of the business leaders are against you. But if introverts can leverage their unique personality traits properly, they can become empowered exceptional leaders. It is not just showing videos or having sessions about good and positive behavior in the workplace that promotes or creates such an environment. It takes more than that.

Prof.Radha Pavitra
Assistant Professor
DSCE-MBA

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