When someone steps forward in a manner that sets themselves apart from the crowd, are they a natural leader? Natural leader, maybe. Better leader, perhaps not. Quiet people can be better at leadership.
A gentleman named BG Allen has pulled together a compendium of resources on the topic of introverted leaders. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Susan Cain’s blockbuster TED Talk on the Power of Introverts and related book, introverts are reluctantly being put into the spotlight as potentially great contributors to society. Introverts are being overlooked and misunderstood because they are in the minority and the nature of their difference reduces the likelihood their views will be heard.
Allen has found multiple sources that get into the unique contribution of introverts as leaders. I tried to find if Allen had written a book about this. He hasn’t, but an Amazon search on “introverted leader” reveals a dozen books on the topic. There are great articles in Allen’s compendium, from Fast Company, Forbes, and Psychology Today. The Psychology Today article cites studies showing that introverted leaders that are not just adequate, they can also be superior leaders.
Although I am an extravert, I have personally benefitted from strong introverted leaders over the years. You might have experienced the same thing. When we are at our very best, we come from a strong sense of internal strength, knowing our values and thoughts with a clear sense of introspection. I look up to the strong introverts in my life who seem to be the masters of this internal journey. It would be a good thing if we could cultivate this virtue in teams and in society by putting introverts in roles where they can lead by example and help others develop this strength.
As I aspire to be a better leader, I find that I’m a little bit stronger when I hang back a little and let others talk. I’m more clear-headed if I wonder why I think the things I think. And I can cause others to be stronger by taking care to understand what’s going on inside their own head and heart, independent of what sprang into my own mind seconds ago.
I think this emerging evidence of introverted leaders is best understood when you think of who are the very worst leaders. The very worst leaders are those with poor emotional intelligence, bullies, narcissists, people who value their own excellence first and negate the contribution of juniors, and most importantly those who get ahead by smooth-talking their way into the next promotion. These personality vices are often the mark of the extravert. In order for an extravert to become increasingly excellent at leadership they must avoid these pitfalls, seek solitude, and look inside themselves just a little more often than comes naturally to them. Just pretend to be a little bit shy, and you might achieve greatness. And if you’re already like that to begin with, be proud about it. And tell somebody.
[This is an edited re-post of “Then The Introvert Spoke, And It Was Good” from November 16, 2017.]