It seems like society is canted toward extroverts—the high-energy, fast-pace-loving people who are adept at working a room, making connections, being social. Based on their comfort with being around other people and their ability to slide easily into teamwork situations, extroverts would seem to be shoo-ins for the majority of leadership positions. And, according to studies noted by Jennifer Kahnweiler in her book, The Introverted Leader: Building on Your Quiet Strength, it’s true—extroverts are in the majority of leadership roles. But not by as much as you might think. Interestingly, about 40% of leadership roles are filled by introverts.
Many successful introvert leaders are household names. Bill Gates, Eleanor Roosevelt, Jeff Bezos, Rosa Parks, Warren Buffett, Al Gore. And the list goes on. But what makes these people so good at leading, especially when it would seem that the introvert is too reclusive? And what can extrovert leaders learn from their approach?
To start, introverts are highly skilled at listening. They tend not to monopolize social settings and instead place value on what the other party brings to the conversation; they are more receptive to ideas that aren’t their own and then more willing to employ them.
Introverts bring a calming demeanor to the workplace. Being people who need solitude to recharge, introverts take the quiet time to reflect, which helps them stay focused while others get distracted. They are skilled at putting careful thought into situations, and they can often calm stressful situations by being intentional and deliberate in their speech and decision-making. According to Kahnweiler, introverts “speak softly and slowly regardless of the heat of the conversation or circumstances.”
And, while they might not make a lot of contacts, introverts make connections that are more meaningful—they are more quality- than quantity-focused. Introverts value purposeful conversation over superficial chitchat and tend to prefer one-on-one, in-depth discussions on a topic instead of one-dimensional banter. As a result, an introvert might engage with only a handful of people at a convention, but those interactions are more likely to form powerful, lasting business relationships.
Although it might seem that the charming charisma of the extrovert lends itself to better leadership, in actuality, introverts also bring robust skills to the leadership table. So it’s important for companies to allow a mix of both personality types to gain a full complement of strengths and weaknesses. Anyone can learn to practice good leadership, and the most effective of them will learn from the skills of the other personality type.