In her bestselling book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain explains how in the twentieth century, extroversion became a cultural value—one that resulted in the conflation of success and outgoingness, likeability and talkativeness. Consequently, “introversion—along with its cousins sensitivity, seriousness, and shyness—is now a second-class personality trait, somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology.” However, as she notes, pointing to figures like Sir Isaac Newton, Rosa Parks, Steven Spielberg, Dr. Seuss, and J. K. Rowling as examples of high-achieving introverts, “we make a grave mistake to embrace the Extrovert Ideal so unthinkingly. Some of our greatest ideas, art, and inventions…came from quiet and cerebral people who knew how to tune in to their inner worlds and the treasures to be found there.”
The Extrovert Ideal has long shaped assumptions about what effective leadership looks like: good leaders, according to the prevailing wisdom, are loquacious, loud, and quick to act. But as Dr. Rick Goodman suggests in his new book The Solutions Oriented Leader: Your Comprehensive Guide to Achieve World-Class Results, introversion can be a huge asset, rather than a liability, for success in leadership. He writes: “One of the main things that holds introverts back, I think, is the perception that those who are quiet, even shy, cannot make commanding figures.”
To break through misperceptions about introversion and tap into its power for leadership greatness, implement the following four strategies:
1. Remember that listening—not talking—is the mark of a really engaging leader.
Despite the assumption that the most effective leaders are the ones who talk the most, active listening is a far more important leadership skill. Indeed, Goodman notes that potentially the most significant challenge faced by today’s business leaders is positioning yourself “to lead your team not just through commands and dictations but through real engagement.” Meaningful engagement requires not listening to respond, but listening to understand, a communication skill at which introverts are particularly adept.
2. Remain calm during times of crisis.
Introverts, with their tendency to calmly, internally process situations before responding, can diffuse emotional situations by offering deliberate, rational, and well-thought-out solutions.
3. Force yourself out of your comfort zone.
Although you might prefer small-group situations to large speaking events and value deep, meaningful conversation over small talk, to be an effective leader you’ll want to push yourself a bit to engage with others in the ways that matter to them. Play to your strengths, making the most of those more intimate conversational settings, but also challenge yourself to step out of your comfort zone in order to grow as a leader.
4. Allow yourself some quiet time.
Contrary to popular belief, introversion does not mean that you don’t like others or you’re antisocial; in fact, introverts can be quite social beings—in measured doses. What distinguishes introverts from extroverts is that being around others saps their energy rather than boosting it; as such, introverts require time alone to recharge their batteries. Creating space for this—whether by setting aside fifteen minutes in the morning to be by yourself and collect your thoughts for the day, taking a time-out during the workday to fill up your energy reserves, or using another recovery strategy—will help improve your impact as a leader.
Introversion can and should be a valued quality in business, and those who are introverted should not feel limited in their professional growth opportunities. The intentionality and thoughtfulness that are marks of introversion can make for truly transformative leaders.
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