There's a paradox at the heart of how we think about leaders. Ask someone to picture a stereotypical leader and most people will think of someone confident, brash, and outgoing the classic extrovert. But ask a person to think of real-life business visionaries and many of the people they're likely to name, from Bill Gates to Warren Buffet, are textbook examples of introverts.
What we expect leaders to be like and the qualities that actually make a leader great are often at odds, in other words. We're seduced by charisma and overlook the lower-key charms of the quieter folks among us.
Which can be a huge mistake. Not only have some studies shown the bottom-line benefits that introverted leaders can provide under the right conditions (check out this one about pizza restaurants), but expert after expert insists that more introverted personality types come equipped with significant leadership advantages. Here are seven:
"Introverts typically appear to be better listeners," says Karl Moore, a management professor at McGill University."They wait for others to express their ideas before they jump in with theirs; they don't need to be at the center of every conversation."
Introverts don't wing it, according to Jennifer Kahnweiler, author of the books The Introverted Leader: Building on Your Quiet Strength and Quiet Influence: The Introvert's Guide to Making a Difference. A PsychCentral post explaining her ideas quotes Kahnweiler:"They spend time thinking through their goals and preparing for questions, which gives them an edge."
Kahnweiler further explained the advantages of introverted leaders in a post for Forbes, including their propensity to dive deeply into a subject. "Introverted leaders seek depth over breadth,"she writes."They like to dig deep, delving into issues and ideas before moving on to new ones. They are drawn to meaningful conversations, not superficial chitchat, and they know how to ask great questions and really listen to the answers."Among other benefits, this in-depth study means "executives can learn what's actually happening in the far reaches of their organizations and engage and retain their top talent."
…and being alone is essential for reflection, focus, and the formation of deeply considered opinions."As clinical psychologist Laurie Helgoe states in Introvert Power: Why Your Inner Life Is Your Hidden Strength, introverts have an 'internal power–the power to birth fully formed ideas, insights, and solutions,'" explains author Bruna Martinuzzi on American Express OPEN Forum. Quiet time is essential to bring these breakthrough ideas into the world.
"One of the greatest advantages introverts have is their ability to stay focused, where others around them might be distracted,"Martinuzzi writes. "They're generally not afraid of solitude, because they know it's fruitful. It gives them opportunities for self-reflection, thinking, theorizing, observing, planning, or imagining…It improves our ability to think."
To illustrate this point, Martinuzzi quotesBeth Buelow, author of Insight: Reflections on the Gifts of Being an Introvert:"My energy tends to be a calming presence, which means I don't take up too much space in a room or conversation. And I don't need to take up a lot of space. I have a greater influence when I am intentional and deliberate in my speech and presence."
Martinuzzi and Buelow aren't the only ones noting the calming effect of having an introvert at the top. Kahnweiler agrees, arguing,"Introverted leaders are low key. In times of crisis, they project a reassuring, calm confidence–think President Obama–and they speak softly and slowly regardless of the heat of the conversation or circumstances."
Introverts aren't known for their self-satisfaction, notes Rahul Sinha, who rounded up recent findings on introverted leaders for a LinkedIn post. This continual striving for improvement can be a huge benefit in business settings. Introverts, he writes, are "likely to be aware about areas where they need to improve. This type of focus and awareness is very important to the growth of a leader and their team. This will to challenge oneself will motivate teams to do the same by evaluating themselves, their colleagues, and the team to improve."
It's an old-fashioned skill that's easy to let atrophy in our tech-mad world, but strong writing skills usually lead to clear thinking and communication, according to Kahnweiler, so introverts' skill behind the keyboard offers them an advantage.
"Introverted leaders usually prefer writing to talking," she writes. "This comfort with the written word often helps them better articulate their positions and document their actions. It also helps them leverage online social networking tools such as Twitter , creating new opportunities to be out there with employees, customers, and other stakeholders."
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