The Art of Leading Quietly: Tips for Introverted Leaders
Leadership is a crucial aspect of personal and professional growth, but it can often be challenging, especially for introverts.
But consider this list for a moment: Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks, Mahatma Gandhi, Marissa Mayer, Mark Zuckerberg…all of these are introverted leaders who reached the peak of their fields. So, with so many luminaries who count themselves among the legion of quiet leaders, it begs the question: have we misunderstood what it means to be both an introvert and a leader?
Introversion is not shyness
Introversion is often confused with shyness, but it is important to understand that they are different concepts. Introversion refers to the tendency of an individual to recharge their batteries through solitude and introspection, while shyness is the fear of social situations.
Here we will provide practical tips for introverts who aspire to become leaders and want to maximize their potential. The purpose of this post is to help introverts understand their strengths and weaknesses and develop the skills necessary to succeed as leaders. By embracing their individuality and leveraging their unique traits, introverts can –and do – lead effectively and enjoy the journey.
Introvert vs. extrovert – who is the better leader?
A Forbes article from 2022 reveals that a recent study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology challenged the belief that introverts are at a disadvantage compared to extroverts in being viewed as leaders.
The study found that communication, not extroversion, is the most important factor in leadership perceptions. The researchers split over 400 university students into groups and evaluated their leadership potential based on their communication skills during a group decision making task. The results showed that introverts and extroverts had similar communication skills in the group setting, and that communication was the key factor driving perceptions of leadership potential. The study’s authors emphasize that the findings are about who is perceived as a leader, not who is an effective leader. Communication skills can be learned and improved, making it possible for anyone to be perceived as leadership material.
“For years, introverts have read and been told they’re at a disadvantage compared to extroverts in terms of being viewed as leaders and being promoted into leadership roles,” says James Lemoine, Associate Professor of Organization and Human Resources at the University at Buffalo School of Management and co-author of the study.
“This was troublesome because extroversion is not something that can be taught; it’s a stable personality difference. But our research shows that it’s communication skill, not extroversion, that is the important driver of leadership perceptions. That’s important because communication skills can be learned, which means anyone can develop their communication skills to enhance their chances of being viewed as leadership material by others.”
As confirmed in a Harvard Business School article, both types of leaders — extraverts as well as introverts– can be equally successful or ineffectual, but with different groups of employees.
New research by HBS associate professor Francesca Gino, who conducted a study with professors Adam M. Grant of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and David A. Hofmann of UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School, highlights the importance of having introverted leaders. However, introverts are known to have difficulties advancing in their careers and reaching leadership positions, especially in environments where they work with extraverted colleagues who tend to promote themselves and fit the conventional leadership stereotype.
“Many people associate extraversion with action, assertiveness and dominance—characteristics that people believe to be necessary to be effective leaders,” Gino says. “The features that define extraversion are commonly the features people associate with leadership.”
Understanding the characteristics of introverts as leaders
Introversion plays a crucial role in shaping an individual’s leadership style and approach. Understanding the key traits of introverted leaders can help them embrace their strengths and develop strategies to overcome their weaknesses.
Here are some of the key characteristics of introverted leaders:
1. Introspection: Introverted leaders are often introspective and reflective, which allows them to understand their own thoughts and feelings. This helps them make well-informed decisions and stay focused on their goals.
2. Good listeners: Introverted leaders are excellent listeners, which allows them to understand their team’s perspectives and build strong relationships with their colleagues.
3. Thoughtful and cautious: Introverted leaders are often thoughtful and cautious in their approach, which helps them make well-informed decisions and avoid rash or impulsive actions.
4. Independent: Introverted leaders are often independent and prefer to work alone, which allows them to focus on their work and achieve their goals.
While these traits can be strengths for introverted leaders, they can also be weaknesses if not properly managed. For example, introverts may find it challenging to network and build relationships, which can impact their ability to lead effectively. It is essential for introverted leaders to understand their strengths and weaknesses and develop strategies to overcome the challenges they face. By doing so, they can build confidence in their leadership abilities and effectively lead their team.