Introversion is not a liability: why introverts make great leaders.

Culturally, we tend to associate leadership with extroversion and attach less importance to judgment, vision, and resolve. We prize leaders who are eager talkers over those who have something to say. ~Susan Cain

I first wrote this post three years ago and it hit a nerve. I was reminded of the importance of this topic last week and thought we could all use a reminder.

While working on my doctorate, my cohort was split into two smaller cohorts of a dozen students. The split was simply alphabetical. You would think it would have been a somewhat random split of personality types. Not so. The first half of the alphabet was essentially all introverted and the second half was predominately extroverted. Note my last name—Scanland—I was the introvert in the predominately extroverted cohort.

This is one of many experiences I’ve had where as an introvert I was asked to step it up and be more extroverted. I’m going to assume it’s not intentional, but for the extroverts reading this, there’s something I’d like for you to note. When introverts are asked to be more extroverted, it feels like you’re being told that extroversion is superior to introversion.

It’s not just my own personal experiences. I’ve had clients flat out tell me that they were concerned about individuals’ ability to be effective leaders because they were introverted.

The Research Says

To set the record straight, here are just a few research conclusions about introverted leaders.

From Susan Cain

Introverted leaders often possess an innate caution that may be more valuable than we realize.

The charisma of ideas matters more than a leader’s gregarious charms.

From research conducted by Adam M. Grant, Francesca Gino, and David A. Hofmann

Extroverts and introverts are equally successful in leadership roles overall.

Introverts, in certain situations (i.e., complex and uncertain), actually make better leaders.

An introvert’s ability to hear others, plan, theorize, organize information, and think evidently has its own values!

From Jim Collins’ research…

The best-performing companies of the late 20th century were all led by CEO’s described with words like “reserved” and “understated.”

From the 2012 U.S. Presidential race…

Two introverts ran against each other for U.S. President in 2012: Barak Obama and Mitt Romney.

Often Overlooked

Finally, from Ilya Pozin on, here are some of the numerous leadership characteristics of introverts that are often overlooked.

  • They’re motivated by productivity, not ambition.
  • They build more meaningful connections.
  • They don’t get easily distracted.
  • They solve problems with thoroughness rather than in haste.

Introverts make great leaders! Maximize their assets instead of asking them to “blend in” with the extroverts. Maximizing the strengths of everyone, is a sign of leading with bold grace.