Quiet and Proud – why introverts are great too

Is it just me?  I’ve lost count of the number of introverted people I meet in my work, who say things to me like:

“I’m an introvert, so I can’t network”

“Leaders are always extraverts, so I don’t think I can lead”

Or my personal favourite:

“I’m an introvert, but I wish I was an extravert!”

As a card carrying member of the introverted community myself, I’m fed up with this.  So much so that I thought about wearing an “Introvert and Proud” t-shirt, but then decided it would only get me noticed.  Besides, it’s even worse being an introverted guy, because it’s well known that men generally talk less anyway.

The above comments are meant to be a bit tongue in cheek (which is where we introverts tend to keep our tongues), but the rest of this article is not.  I do think there is much in our society and business that rewards loudness, brashness, and people who have a lot to say.  High powered businesses are not exactly full of people who are listening to each other.  The consequences of this behaviour are there for all to see.  So let’s just consider what introversion and introverted people can offer the world.

Introverts offer thinking.  How else did Einstein come up with the theory of relativity?  But moving on to the modern society we live in now, let’s look at some of the above quotes.

Networking

What about networking then?  The truth is that introverts have real strengths to offer when networking with other people.  For a start, introverts will do their research on people they plan to network with.  They will readily dig around for information so that when they meet, they have something to talk about.  Introverts are also more likely to be good listeners, and nothing helps more to build a good relationship with someone than to listen to them when they have something to say.  Empathy isn’t everything, but it sure is a lot.

Of course, extraverts are more likely to have a head start on selling themselves and talking – and may feel more comfortable in networking situations.  But that doesn’t guarantee being good at it.  The truth is that extraverts and introverts have different strengths in networking, and we all need to work in those areas we are less good at.  All of which brings me onto the other area that introverts are often put off from – leadership.

Leadership

Never have I heard so much about leadership, and seen so few genuine leaders in play.  You know, the sort of leaders that other people actually want to follow, as opposed to being in some way ‘forced’ to (if only as a way to retain a contract of employment.)  The dice is often loaded in organisations in favour of leaders who “project themselves,” “have charisma” or “articulate a vision.”  All of these are assumed to be extravert qualities, and it is no surprise that more extraverts tend to go for leadership positions than introverts, who may choose to shy away.  But here’s the rub.

Extraverts are more likely to gravitate towards leadership because they either like to be in charge or because they enjoy being the centre of attention.  There’s nothing wrong with that. But it doesn’t guarantee effective leadership.  Introverts, however, need a cause to move into positions of leadership – and when they find a cause they can identify with, they can become hugely capable leaders.  People like Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and the much in the news Nelson Mandela, were all hugely introverted.  How else would Mandela have coped with thirty years in prison, much of it in solitary confinement, without going mad?  Yet all three changed the world in their own ways, and all have a huge following of admirers who even now evoke their work for inspiration.

If you need industry examples, look no further than the technological revolution that has spearheaded change these last thirty years.  People like Bill Gates, Steve Wozniak and Mark Zuckerberg have transformed how we do things.  All had causes to lead on.  Interestingly, their followers in IT are labelled ‘geeky’ by those outside.  They wear it as a badge of pride in some cases, but who put that badge onto them in the first place?  I doubt if it was them.

Just to add a few more names, we have Warren Buffett, Jeff Bezos (founder of Amazon.com), Oprah Winfrey, JK Rowling and Barack Obama.  All leaders who sit on the introverted side of the spectrum.

This is not to say that extraverts don’t offer great qualities.  Many of my best friends are extravert, and they brighten up my life no end – as do my introverted ones.  There is, of course, an equivalent extraverted list of leaders just as impressive as the one I've just given you.

Indeed, we do an injustice in some ways by labelling people as extravert or introvert in the first place.  We all have both qualities in us, it’s just that we tend to have a preference for one or the other.  We all need social time, we all need quiet time.  We all need time to talk, and time to think.  We are all a balance.  However, I’ve yet to hear an extraverted person bemoan the fact they are one.  I’m glad of that fact, but it should be the same for people with introvert preferences.

So if you are a self-confessed, or labelled, introvert, stand up, buy that t-shirt, and be quiet and proud!