Who Decided Introverts Don’t Make Great Leaders?

Who Decided Introverts Don't Make Great Leaders?

Grey haired male in dark suit jacket and dark red tie seated at office table gazes out of office window

This is Part 2 of a two-part blog post entitled "Introverts Don't Make Great Leaders - Wrong! So Let's Change the Narrative".

The Impact of Not Being Seen as Leadership Potential

Those of us who are waking up to the value of who we are as introverted leaders, are deeply frustrated with being misunderstood, misconstrued, undervalued, overlooked, and at worst labelled as not having strong leadership potential. The world needs to change its idea about introverts as leaders, and we need to own who we really are. There's a lot of learning and unlearning that needs to be done!

I recently surveyed 100 introverts and asked them “Do you think your career would be enhanced if your introversion was truly valued, respected and elevated?”. The responses were disheartening. 51% said ‘yes’, another 32% said ‘maybe’. 83% said this had been or may have been an issue for them. Half of the responders identified with being overlooked because of a lack of understanding of what introversion is, or what system changes or development is needed to elevate introverted leaders.

Career impact graph

I also asked them, “What is it you would like your senior leadership to know about you?”. They wanted their senior leaders to know:

  • that they naturally create quality work and have a unique set of skills and ideas;
  • that not being socially expressive leads to misconceptions and stereotypes, and they want to be judged on their work performance and achievements, not on their social interactions;
  • that introversion is an asset and they shouldn’t be overlooked for leadership positions;
  • that they want to be included in conversations and decision-making, and professional growth opportunities;
  • that they work hard to appear more extroverted but it takes effort and is often exhausting;
  • that introverts have different communication and working styles, and need time to think before speaking.

When I also asked the survey responders how they might be holding themselves back, answers included:

  • not being confident;
  • not putting themselves out there or advocating for their own achievements;
  • being afraid to share their opinions for fear of the spotlight or saying the wrong thing;
  • and also not sharing if an idea has already been raised (even though extroverts have no problem doing this).

Introverted Capabilities Are Essential For The Conceptual Age

Rather than understanding the value of introversion, the advice we get often reinforces the beliefs about introversion. If you search ‘great jobs for introverts’, the latest blogs are likely to recommend that introverts find jobs that let us work alone, where we can be specialists, and where we have few disruptions and reduced social interaction – jobs like software developers, accountants; graphic designers, truck drivers or veterinarians ... There’s nothing wrong with these jobs, but there’s an equity and growth issue here. These jobs are rarely classified as leadership positions, so introverts are not being encouraged to stretch, or to seek opportunities to grow our personal worth – financial and talent-wise.

To understand how introversion has come to be so undervalued, and how the world has come to perpetuate this, we need to look back to the impact of the Industrial Age. During these beginnings of big business, a command-and-control style of leadership was needed to manage hundreds of workers in the new factories and dockyards. As we moved into the Information Age, the need for quick decision-making and fast-paced influencing continued to elevate extroverted leadership through the 20th century.

But the world is changing rapidly. We are now in the Conceptual Age. As Daniel Pink, author of 'A Whole New Mind', 'Drive' and 'When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing', describes, this requires a new leadership focus based on what he calls ‘high touch’, ‘high concept’ capabilities. This leadership approach will focus on empathy, understanding people, aligning with a deeper purpose, detecting opportunities, and connecting the dots.

These capabilities are the domain of introverts. Our time has come. This requires a specific type of leadership charisma.

“High-touch, high-concept skills are the domain of introverted leaders.”

A New Focus on Charisma

A female leader in a suit with mid-brown to dark blonde hair leans into a discussion with their diverse team sat around a table

Charisma can manifest in many different ways, and it is not limited to any specific personality type or leadership style. Charismatic leaders possess qualities such as confidence, assertiveness, warmth, humour, intelligence, and authenticity, who are able to connect with others on an emotional level and build strong relationships based on trust and respect. For a deeper look at the aspects of charisma that introverted leaders can access, check out my blog post Introverted Leadership: The New Charisma.

As we think about what organizations need today in this Conceptual Age, they are looking for leaders who can sit with ambiguity, who can innovate while seeing the complexity, and who are inclusive – whose ability to create an authentic connection with each person on their team, builds a psychologically safe work environment. According to research by Statista, who surveyed 11.3 million employees from 803 organizations globally from November 2022 to February 2023, more than 70% of companies shared that they consider creative thinking and analytical thinking to be the skills most expected to rise in importance between 2023 and 2027. This is primarily due to increasing complexities in the workplace.

When introverted leaders lean into our unique charisma, we elevate our impact and get our introverted needs valued and respected. We share our insightful ideas and opinions more readily while managing our energy so we don't get burned out trying to be something we're not. We use our exceptional skills in empathy, insightfulness, self awareness, and collaboration to build an inclusive culture in our team, and to impact the wider organization.

And of course, not all introverts are the same. While we have easy access to the executive functioning in our prefrontal cortex, some of us lean more heavily towards creativity, or empathy, and others of us are more analytical. Check out your introverted superpower in our short quiz here.

This is a journey of ‘undoing’. It takes inner work for many introverted leaders to break through unhelpful patterns and the tendency to play small. It takes a focused, conscious effort in organizations to create space for both introverts and extroverts to thrive and excel, by creating a truly inclusive work environment where everyone can bring their unique gifts, talents and skills to their work.

“Charisma is not limited to any specific personality type or leadership style.”

Help Change The Narrative

Here are some strategies that introverted leaders and their organizations can initiate to begin changing the narrative, and to elevate introverted leadership.

Ways Introverted Leaders Can Advocate For Themselves:

  1. Reflect on your past experiences and successes to recognize instances where your introverted traits contributed to effective decision-making and problem-solving.
  2. Seek feedback from trusted colleagues, mentors or 360 assessments to gain insights into how your introverted characteristics positively impact your leadership effectiveness.
  3. Rehearse talking about your ideas, visions, and expertise so you don’t have to think too much about the words as the memory muscle is there.
  4. Educate colleagues and team members on the importance of honouring introverted needs for focused concentration and uninterrupted thinking time to optimize productivity and creativity.

Ways Organizations Can Elevate Their Introverted Leaders:

  1. Provide opportunities for introverted leaders to engage in reflective exercises, case studies, and group discussions that highlight the effectiveness of deep reflection in decision-making and problem-solving processes.
  2. Ensure cross-functional project teams comprise introverted and extroverted leaders to leverage diverse perspectives and approaches to problem-solving.
  3. Highlight success stories and case studies that demonstrate the impact of introverted leadership styles on driving organizational growth, fostering innovation, and achieving sustainable results.
  4. Provide training and resources on active listening and empathy-building to promote mutual understanding and respect among introverted and extroverted leaders and employees.

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.