It's a talk-talk-talk world out there, led by outgoing, effusive, energetic, enthusiastic and inspirational leaders. Think of extroverts like Steve Jobs, Jack Welch, Bill Clinton, Martin Luther King Jr. or our very own Vijay Mallya.
With the corporate brass celebrating extroversion and top leaders expected to conform to the active and talkative stereotype, what about the undervalued, misunderstood and disregarded lot of introverted individuals? Can they not be poised to lead as well?
How can such low-key personalities run the show, is the common reaction? Where's the charisma, the people skills to stimulate excitement and engagement or even connect with people? They are unable to even initiate small talk conversations, forget about delivering rousing speeches. In fact, when it comes for a toss-up between an introvert and extrovert for a leadership position, the live wire always wins hands down! A two-and-a-half-year study of introverted professionals by Jennifer Kahnweiler of the international bestseller The Introverted Leader: Building on Your Quiet Strength fame reveals, “Four out of five introverts say extroverts are more likely to get ahead in their workplace. What's more, over 40 percent say they would like to change their introverted tendencies!”
It is time for a serious rethink as introverts have a lot many things running in their favour.
Don't be misled by the soft and quiet demeanour as it may conceal a sharp mind and a proficient leader. Even leading surveys indicate that introverts and closet introverts do populate the highest corporate offices, so much so, that four in 10 top executives test out to be introverts, a proportion slightly lower than the standard 50-50 average. Bestselling author Jim Collins too reveals that the most successful companies rarely had so-called celebrity CEOs, but rather CEOs who were self-effacing and humble to a fault!
To trace back, Mahatma Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln and Socrates were inward-looking revolutionaries who single-handedly changed the face of history. US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton is reserved but a magnetic leader nonetheless. Closer home, the self-effacing PM Manmohan Singh and Mukesh Ambani are regarded as geniuses in their own right, despite being men of few words.
The Hindustan Times describes the Prime Minister as “a quiet giant who could make history”!
They may not necessarily stand out or dominate proceedings or even indulge in superficial chitchats. But these self-actualised introverts can draw on quiet strengths that are sorely lacking in their more outgoing counterparts. Bill Gates, the legendary Microsoft founder and Steve Wozniak, the lesser-known inventor of the Apple computer are rather shy and unsocial, finding greater comfort in technology than people.
Their achievements speak for themselves!
What especially tips the scales is the ability to actually sit back and listen carefully, process information internally and then speak up in a thoughtful and reasoned manner. There are no impulsive words or heat of the moment decisions. They always ponder the pros and cons, digging deep into issues with meaningful questions.
Warren Buffet credits his unparalleled successes to a calm, quiet and cautious temperament.
Even researchers are finding that introverts make better leaders than extroverts for the simple reason that they are more likely to listen and pay attention to what other people are saying. By taking a backseat, introverted leaders encourage others to suggest ideas, contribute actively and take initiative, thus increasing morale and motivation.
The observant, contemplative nature helps them to tune into the needs and concerns of their people as well as nurture and empower them to maximise productivity. They are always organised, well-prepared and more responsive than reactive.
Introverts need to spend time alone and this downtime helps them to recharge their batteries, thus fuelling clarity, consistency, creativity and better decision making.
Moreover, an introvert leader at the helm will exude a calm confidence that is reassuring and will promote harmony as well!
Yet, the corporate world is not very kind to introverts and only promotes extroversion.
Many talented employees fail to rise to leadership positions, held back by their introverted nature and unsung successes. Many reticent employees are encouraged to overcome the ‘handicap' and imbibe extroverted behaviours. Then again, a new study conducted by Harvard Business School shows that there's a definite need for introverted leaders. Therefore, don't hesitate to choose an introvert leader the next time round. It may just be just what the doctor ordered.