Introverted leaders

11 12 2016

It’s been over a year since I read Quiet by Susan Cain, and it still lingers in my thoughts. It is a book about introversion and about being an introvert in an extrovert world. This is perhaps one of the most remarkable books I’ve ever read. It opened up a whole new perspective for me, sharpened and focused my perception.

As mentioned in my earlier posts on the book and/or author, when I first encountered the TED talk and later the book, I couldn’t totally appreciate the motivation behind them. Having been raised in a culture which favors introversion over extroversion, I had always been comfortable being an introvert.

And talking about introversion, it should be noted that it’s not the same thing as shyness. Even though both seem to manifest in similar behaviors (limited or no social interaction), the motivations underlying these two tendencies are quite different. While an introverted person could be quiet because that person is just absorbing stuff or have nothing much to contribute, a shy person could be quiet because of inhibitions or lack of social skills.

But as my circumstances and external environment changed – workplace, social networks/groups etc., things started to look a little different. But I was largely blind to the impact the shift in the cultural expectation is having on my perception of myself, on my career, and on my lifestyle. In the days and months after I read Quiet, I began to look at the world around me through a new authentic lens. As I continued to observe and think about it all, I started to realize the profundity of Susan Cain’s work, her effort to bring forth the true essence of introverts and their many valuable traits, and the irrefutable need to talk about and plead the case for introversion amidst the highly extrovert culture.

It’s not about which trait is better – extroversion or introversion. Each trait has a different set of strengths and weaknesses with definitive roles in different circumstances. It’s more a continuum rather than an either/or situation.

Leadership is a skill that comprises of many traits. A truly effective leader needs to exhibit both extroverted and introverted behaviors as needed. We know that extroverts are talkative, engage well with people (especially large groups) and exuberant; introverts are quiet, prefer solitude or small social groups to large groups, and are better listeners. While extroverted leaders are better for staff that is less proactive as they can encourage and motivate the staff better, introverted leaders perform better with proactive staff, where they listen more and better support the staff in their endeavors. So, contrary to the popular belief that only extroverted people make better leaders, there are many successful introverted leaders both in history and present – Abraham Lincoln, Eleanor Roosevelt, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates etc. Introverted leaders possess a quiet strength that proves to be invaluable.

Introverted leaders rock because they
• Listen better
• Prepare, practice, and are present
• Build fewer but meaningful relationships
• Possess calm demeanor
• Demonstrate humility
• Are prudent and manage uncertainty better

By nature people tend to lean more towards one or the other end of the spectrum. However, nurture enables us to shift the lever a little to one side or the other, mostly as a response to circumstantial demand. This implies that this “nurture” can and “should” happen both ways. But all we see around are different programs and avenues to empower introverts with some of the extroverted aspects, but not the other way around. Too bad!

Care should be taken though not to stretch oneself too much against one’s true nature, because it’s usually counter-productive. For example, an introvert can and sometimes need to come out of his/her comfort zone and deal with lots of people, give a speech, or organize a party. But as long as one understands why one is doing it and takes the time out for oneself in order to balance things out, there comes a snapping point eventually that forces one to make radical life changes/choices to find and get into their groove.

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