Introverts Don’t Make Great Leaders – Wrong!

Introverts Don't Make Great Leaders - Wrong!

So Let's Change The Narrative

Young woman quizzical look

It’s time we changed the narrative about introverts as leaders. When I share about my focus on elevating introverted leadership, it's disheartening to hear things like, "Isn't that an oxymoron, ha ha?" or "Introverts don't speak up enough to be strong leaders.".

Of course there are leaders who are introverted who aren't great leaders, just as there are extroverts who aren't great leaders. But to disregard a whole talented group of people because of a lack of understanding of what our strengths and needs are, is not inclusive, and it isn't smart!

Introverted leaders are often awesome at building inclusion in our teams and in our organizations because of our insights, creativity and critical thinking, the essential leadership skills for the 21st century. This is because of our ability to reflect deeply, think strategically, engage in creative solutioning, and be in tune with what's going on for our people.

So why are introverts so often overlooked for leadership positions and promotions to senior levels?

Let’s dive in!

What Is Introversion?

First, let’s get really clear on what introversion is … and what it isn’t.

As a deep introvert, I have the most amazing inner life ... and as I've looked back into my past and my childhood over the last 25 years of exploring what makes me, me, that has always been the case. I can spend hours, if not days, diving into the depths and soaring up into the heights of my creative thinking - looking at everything, researching from every angle, and pondering endless 'What if?' questions.

This capability can be partly explained by research that shows introverted types have more blood flow to our frontal lobes where we engage in mentally playing with ideas, taking the time to think before acting, meeting novel and unanticipated challenges, resisting temptations, and staying focused. For me, not only does this provide me with the space for critical thinking and coming up with robust creative solutions, it's how I process information. When I'm presented with ideas, data, and opinions, I need to take these into my inner world so that I can think critically about them, and work out how I feel about them. My emotions and intuitions are essential datapoints in my own assessment of the issue, challenge or idea at hand.

This process of going within and exploring my thoughts, feelings, intuitions, ideas, and questions, also fills me up. It's where I get my energy from, how I recharge the internal battery that provides me with the strength and fuel to be active in the world, and to thrive.

Extroverts on the other hand process information verbally and fill up their batteries by being with people. My dear, late friend and colleague Connie was a true extrovert. She always needed to talk through ideas and program design, and process her feelings by discussing them. When we had spent the day facilitating leadership sessions, she would want to go out and talk about the day, whereas I wanted to go home and have a quiet night in to reflect. Extroverts need to bounce new ideas around, and talk through datapoints with others to make sense of them, before they land on their decisions or perspectives. They also like to move into action and make things happen, often understanding a problem better when they can talk about it out loud and hear what others have to say.

Again, this can be understood through studies that show that extroverts have more active dopamine systems than introverts. They form stronger memories associated with the rewards they get from social engagement, risk taking, and achieving goals. They have a higher level of alertness and readiness in response to stimuli, and are excited when they’re around people, as well as liking to energize other people. Extroverts refill their cups by being with others - this process replenishes their inner batteries that enable them to thrive.

There’s no right or wrong, it’s just different - we each have our strengths. Not only does the introvert vs extrovert discussion highlight another beautiful aspect of diversity, valuing both is essential for team and business success.

batteries depleting

What Introversion Is Not

Introversion is not a personality flaw!

Being introverted is not about being too quiet, or being shy, or being anti-social. Extroverts can be all these things, and introverts can speak up, be confident, and be socially comfortable.

Let's take a look at three common myths about introversion.

Myth No. 1: “You’re too quiet”. Well, as we’ve explored, we don’t process verbally, and we find it unnecessary to talk unless we have something new to say. We can process in the moment which means we’ll be exploring our thoughts and feelings as we’re engaging in a discussion, but we won’t share that out loud until we’ve thought it through, felt the resonance, and landed on what’s important or true for us. And we often don't get there in the first meeting or discussion. We usually need to go away, reflect, check our thinking or ideas with a couple of trusted colleagues, and then circle back.

Myth No. 2: “Introverts are anti-social”. We really don’t enjoy small talk, so we tend to avoid social situations where we don’t know anyone, or where the conversation is going to be superficial. This does make networking a challenge for us, which can be career limiting. What we seek are meaningful conversations and connections – these give us energy. Spending time with people expends our energy, so unless the social event is really important to us, or we know we’ll be having meaningful conversations, our energy gets depleted quickly and we can become exhausted – the introvert hangover is real!

Myth No. 3: “You’re shy”. Speaking from my own childhood experience as a very shy child, I have since learned that my shyness was a reaction to not being understood or valued, or from being judged. When we experience this 'feedback' from our environment, it can exacerbate any social anxiety we may have, and that can become very real, overwhelming and even crippling. Being reserved, a characteristic often applied to introverts, doesn't mean we're shy. What is actually going on depends on the individual introvert's level of self-esteem, and our ability to manage our internal judgments about ourselves and others.

Introversion is not a personality flaw!

The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

Young boy sat on inside window ledge, head in his hands, knees up, deep in thought

Many of us who are introverted have been told since we were young that we’re not ok or not enough – we’re too quiet, we’re too shy, we're anxious, we don’t play well with others, we lack confidence, we're loners – rather than understanding that our demeanour is about how we create, process and recharge. Introverted behaviours have been, and are still seen as impairments.

When you constantly hear that messaging, it can have a direct impact on your self esteem. You take it in, you end up believing it, and you withdraw into yourself where you feel safe. That ends up creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.

This can become a habit that we take into our adulthood. When we don’t feel ok, valued, safe or included, we withdraw our energy, keep our thoughts, feelings and ideas to ourselves, and get labelled as quiet, reserved, unassertive, lacking in confidence, and ultimately not seen as strong leadership potential. This pigeon-holing leads us to be overlooked or not even considered for future promotions or career-enhancing opportunities.

To compensate for this, many introverts force ourselves to be extroverted in work situations, which ends up feeling inauthentic, doesn't get the results we are looking for, and is absolutely exhausting.

“When you are told repeatedly that you are not enough, you end up believing it.”

The myths about introverts vs extroverts need to be dismantled.

Myth 1 - introverts are too quiet. The Reality: We don't need to process verbally, or repeat ideas or comments in meetings that have already been expressed. Our 'quietness' is a powerful strength that enables us to reach deeply into our intuition and critical thinking to find creative solutions to problems and challenges, and to come up with innovations that wouldn't otherwise have had the time to be realized.

Myth 2 - introverts are anti-social. The Reality: We don't have the heightened dopamine need that extroverts have because our brains are wired slightly differently. We don't seek external rewards or recognition from others. Some of us are also more sensitive to external stimuli such as noise and bright lights. This can add to the challenge of being comfortable at busy events or in noisy restaurants or parties.

Myth 3 - introverts are shy. The Reality: According to the American Psychological Association, "Shyness is the tendency to feel awkward, worried, or tense during social encounters ..." While some introverts do struggle with shyness, it is often a negative response to experiences in our childhood. This can often be healed by building our emotional intelligence and repairing our self esteem.

Stepping Into Our Full Potential

The world needs introverts to step into our full gifts, strengths and talents to bring our quiet intelligence to our work. Our inclusion skills will also help make the workplace a more caring, equitable, inclusive and just environment in which everyone can thrive.

What kind of introverted leader are you? What are your gifts and strengths? What are your introvert superpowers? Take a look at the following types of introverted leader - which ones resonate for you and where might your opportunity for growth be?

I'm A Talented Introvert

I think deeply and strategically about everything! My insights and perspectives are sought after, and when expressed fully can elevate the success of projects, workflows and strategic plans.

I'm A Fearless Introvert

I recognize and value my uniqueness and refuse to play small to fit in. Rather than being seen as an outlier, I access my innovative perspectives and creative expression to influence the world around me.

I'm An Authentic Introvert

I am self aware and do the inner work to bring my unique inclusive skills to the benefit of everybody. My journey is to walk taller, feel lighter, and bring my whole self to my leadership to make a meaningful impact.

I'm A Free-Spirited Introvert

I am talented, fearless and authentic. By playing bigger, and owning and embracing my quiet charisma, I know that powerful influence comes through being able to truly believe and say, "I'm free to be me!".

So where did the idea come from that introverts don't make great leaders?

Click here to download your free ‘In The Moment’ guide to shine in meetings – specific steps to take during meetings that bring your quiet intelligence into the spotlight.