Employers tend to have a preference for the outgoing and action-oriented personalities of extroverts when making management hires. However, despite being more reserved, introverts also have the potential to be successful leaders.
Although the quieter candidates are often overlooked for leadership, a Forbes report recently revealed that 40% of top executives describe themselves as introverts. Among these are Microsoft's Bill Gates, Steve Wozniak of Apple, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, and Yahoo!’s Marissa Mayer.
These admired leaders claim their success is due to the different approach introverts take to leadership.
We reveal the often undetected qualities introverts have, which can make them effective leaders.
Famous introvert Albert Einstein once said, ‘It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s that I stay with problems longer.’
It’s this focus on their internal world which makes introverts deep thinkers. As they consider all angles before presenting ideas, this makes them prudent decision makers. At the same time as reducing costly errors, the consideration they give to solving problems increases the likelihood of having innovative ideas that can be scaled and monetised.
Creativity and Innovation
Popular TED speaker, Susan Cain, says the world should place more value on the skills introverts have to offer. In her book Quiet, she explains that research for decades has shown that the most highly creative people are introverted.
The preference for spending time alone is what enables introverts to be so creatively focused. For example, Steve Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple, attributes designing revolutionary products to time spent ‘alone, thinking and thinking about what you want to design or build.’
The introvert’s ability for creative focus is likely to become more highly valued in today’s competitive business environment. Finding innovative ways to improve existing products or even create brand new ones gives an advantage over competitors who stick to old ways of working.
Introverts are naturally humble and tend not to crave the spotlight. As a result they foster innovation by welcoming suggestions from colleagues. Common workplace complaints about leaders are that they don’t seek employees’ input, or worse, take personal credit for the teams’ ideas. In fact, a recent Gallup study found that many managers crush innovation by discouraging new ideas from employees.
An introvert’s preference for working alone may seem at odds with leadership. However, an ability to foster innovation in employees was identified as ‘the single most important attribute of future leaders’ in an IBM study.
Fostering the sharing of new ideas doubly benefits an organisation. When individual employees are recognised for their efforts, this motivates them, improving engagement and raising team morale. It also supports the development of a culture of innovation in the workplace. When a company has an innovative culture, it can grow a strong competitive advantage.
Listening and empathy
A tendency to work quietly shouldn’t be equated to a lack of people skills. Though they may not talk as much as others, an introverts preference for listening can make employees and customers feel heard. A recent study found that employees who do not feel heard feel undervalued which can lead to distrust and disengagement. On the other hand, ‘when more employees feel heard, key business outcomes like optimized financial performance and increased engagement levels are more likely to improve.’
Introverts also tend to be more empathic. The ability to understand someone’s feelings and perspective is an important skill for leaders. It helps introverts to understand how their actions impact on others. It also creates greater trust and openness, leading to better communication. In addition to enhancing workplace collaboration, it’s a valuable trait for improving customer experience.
Don’t overlook the quiet ones
As introverts don’t seek attention, this prevents them making common management mistakes, such as not seeking input from staff, micro-managing or taking credit for team efforts. As poor management styles like these are linked to high turnover and low engagement, more companies should rethink their ideal management candidate profile.
Introverts are certainly valuable for fostering team work and innovation. However, different personality types need to be matched to the needs of specific teams. As introverts prefer to focus on some tasks alone, introverted leaders make good leaders for teams who work well without constant supervision.