Are managers overlooking introversion?

06 December 2017 -

IntrovertFind out why now is the time for introverts to shine

Gaby Lane

We live in a world that idealises extroversion. Studies show a psychological halo effect: in life, we rate talkative individuals as more likeable and more competent; in work, extroversion is the strongest predictor of leadership status. It outranks both conscientiousness and agreeableness.

This is a grave misunderstanding.

That is the view of lawyer-turned-author Susan Cain, who spent seven years researching introversion for her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.

Cain is leading a growing movement against ‘alpha management’. Having founded the Quiet Leadership Institute in 2014, she works with organisations including NASA and GE to ensure introverts are given opportunities to thrive. Her TED Talk on the topic has been viewed more than 17 million times.

In a professional environment, introverts and extroverts behave differently. The archetypal extrovert chooses action over contemplation, and is a quick decision-maker, enthused by teamwork. This means they thrive in a culture of open-plan offices and self-promotion.

In contrast, introverts favour low levels of stimulation. They work on their own, slowly and deliberately, and prefer to focus on one task at a time. But their powers of concentration and ability to listen to others make them highly capable leaders.

The skills of the introverted may translate to the balance sheet. Last year, a joint study by the universities of Stanford, Harvard and Chicago identified the traits of 4,591 CEOs of publicly traded US companies, using linguistic analysis of conference calls. They found that companies with introverted CEOs averaged a two per cent higher return on assets than those run by extroverts.

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates is another successful introvert. He once said: “If you’re clever, you can learn to get the benefits of being an introvert – being willing to go off for a few days and think about a tough problem [and] read everything you can. Then, if you come up with something, you better hire some extroverts... to go out... and sell.”

“Introverts manage with quiet competence,” says Cain. “They are much more likely to let employees run with their own ideas. Introversion is important for productivity, while solitude is an important ingredient for creativity.”

The Quiet Leadership Institute trains ‘quiet ambassadors’ within organisations to spot and champion introverts and educate others. In her TED Talk, Cain explains: “The key to maximising talents comes down to putting ourselves in the zone of stimulation that is right for us. When it comes to leadership, we need introverts doing what they do best. Culturally, we need a better balance.”


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