Leadership

Introverted employees make the best leaders

It is a misconception that all introverts are shy. The two are different -- an important distinction to understand when you're considering a leadership position.

The term "introverted" is often used interchangeably with "shy." This is misleading. Introversion itself is not shyness. Shyness brings with it feelings of nervousness and anxiety. Although an introvert may be shy, it actually means that person is energized by being alone, and is drained by being around other people.

I'm an introvert; my husband is an extrovert. He literally can't go long without being around a lot of people. It is exactly like a battery charge for him. I, on the other hand, literally get uneasy if I don't have a period of solitude in every day.

I get frustrated by the faulty definition of introvert. I think it subconsciously makes introverts feel like they could never be leaders because they don't have the people skills needed. So it was with great glee that I ran across a piece on Forbes.com that put this topic in proper perspective and actually made a case for why introverts make the best leaders. (Little known fact: Introverts make up about 60% of the gifted population but only about 25-40% of the general population.)

My hat's off to the author of the piece, Jennifer B. Kahnweiler, for outlining the characteristics of introverts that make them great leaders:

  1. They think first, talk later (In other words, they think before they speak.)
  2. They focus on depth. They are drawn to meaningful conversations, not superficial chitchat, and they know how to ask great questions and really listen to the answers.
  3. They exude calm. In times of crisis, they project a reassuring, calm confidence
  4. They prefer writing to talking. This comfort with the written word often helps them better articulate their positions and document their actions.
  5. They embrace solitude. The need to get away from people and recharge actually fuels their thinking, creativity and decision-making and, when the pressure is on, helps them be responsive, not reactive.

If you're an introvert, do yourself a favor and read the original piece.

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

55 comments
ibrowej2
ibrowej2

Very encouraging words for us introverts. Yes, I do believe the soft skills get it done. We seem to take the time to think things out a little more carefully and systematically. We think before we act which can be crucial in the work environment. Introverts also don't usually have an ego problem that can often harm relationships with other workers. Some more helpful tips for introverts: http://www.helpforthenetworkingintrovert.com/

nishithrma
nishithrma

Our ancestors always advised thinking more & speaking less. Somehow in modern day mad rush we have missed the advise. Thanks for the timely reminder

lescoutinhovr
lescoutinhovr

I'm introverted and I like to be alone sometimes. I like to be with my friends, but then I think that I could be doing something more important and that I'm wasting my time. xD I want to improve in my career and chitchatting it's not the best way to achieve my goal. But I intend to spend more time in the social world after achieve my goals.

maggymaggyp
maggymaggyp

I'm married to an introvert, have two wonderful introverted children, so I LOVE introverts. However, as an extrovert who still needs her alone time occasionally, I'd like to point out that many extroverts think BY speaking versus think before speaking. I've experienced many times where talking aloud about something has made the thing clearer to me. Otherwise, I might repeatedly cover the same ground over and over in my head without relief. Vive La Difference! The world needs both extraverts and introverts...

akcoyote
akcoyote

My career has been fairly equally divided between hardware tech support, project management and product sales with about half of it working for others and half as a 'serial entrepreneur' small business owner. Support and project management are both 'people' oriented functions and sales is totally a people relationship function. This has led many to accuse me of being an extrovert. It couldn't be further from the truth. While I 'need' to be around people, my alone time is sacrosanct. One of the things which helped me survive, even prosper, in these roles was learning to define my 'alone time' to others as FUSOW. This stands for 'feet up, staring out window'. People were warned that although I had an open door policy, walking in on these moments was verboten and a good way to get on my really bad side. I carefully explained to each new hire or coworker that this was work time when I would integrate all the information I was given, read, viewed, researched, etc. It was when I would be formulating (most often subconsciously) my responses, plans and action items. For years, I felt I had to do this during my 'downtime' after work. It took serious consideration to recognize that this was not only work, but in large part the key part of my job. So I moved it to work hours. Took some explaining and navigating quite a bit of misunderstanding, but as I became better at making my case, people began to accept this. Of course, it was much easier when I was the boss, but learning to make my case when I wasn't turned out to provide me with the tools to make it acceptable when I was in charge instead of simply 'Because I say so.' As I said, FUSOW is the answer.......

j.scheepstra
j.scheepstra

Because the general opinion is that leaders are by definition extraverts.

ERISAgeek
ERISAgeek

I had an erroneous view of what it meant to be an introvert or an extrovert. I finally learned that it's where you get your energy from. An extrovert is energized by going out and being around other people. An introvert needs to back off and refuel him/herself before going back out into the world. I'm stating this based on memory so it may not be stated exactly correct, but it's enough to give you the gist of what it means. Any other opinions about what it means? I'm an introvert and, for a while, I had a false image of myself because I compared myself to extroverts and always felt like I came up lacking -- until I found out what the terms really meant. I think just because of the differences in personality that introverts accomplish more in task related jobs. I always wonder if introverts are better suited to task related jobs and extroverts are more suited to "people" jobs that require use of their personality (sales, etc.)

seanferd
seanferd

and have been fooled by some external definition, is truly odd. Where is their introversion focused that they are not at all introspective of one of their core personality traits? (I thought I was shy but I'm not?) Of course they can make good leaders. It's the extroverts that need the hint. ;)

mense
mense

Most introvert people that i met are less speak up, less social and do not get high visibility. Thus, i believe extrovert will make a better leader as we tend to listen and talk.

krasram
krasram

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Kamohelo
Kamohelo

Hallelujah!!!! It's about time someone finally put things in perspective.

EnEm1
EnEm1

Briggs-Meyer is pretty accurate. I am an INTJ and I am a good project manager. Introversion has to do with thinking before opening one's mouth. In a crisis an Introvert withdraws within himself/herself and thinks up a solution for the problem. Introversion has nothing to do with shyness. (I'm a party animal).

Jaqui
Jaqui

according to every Briggs-Meyer test I have done, I'm an ENTJ type. yet most of what you list as introvert traits are strong traits in me. makes me wonder if the Briggs-Meyer tests are accurate.

laj1
laj1

Absolutely, unequivocally and indisputably true! Great article!

rodney.d.phillips
rodney.d.phillips

I wonder where the statistics are to this poll that tells how many respondents are introverts or extroverts. It???s kind of hard not to have a self fulfilled prophecy when you are preaching to the choir.

aeiyor
aeiyor

Good Day All. Toni Bowers, Interesting article. I like it. Even though I disagree with the linking of introvert and extrovert to leadership. Though I am not sure I fully agree with the components involving introversion / intraversion to leadership. I believe perhaps it is more a special homogeneous blending of the two within a person that helps add to good/great leadership. AND that really we are looking at other psychological profiled characteristics versus specifically the introversion and extroversion. Let me first explain by stating my understanding of introverts and extroverts. I believe similar of most identifiable psychological traits that can be brought to light that there are varying gray zones. You are right in that there is an association of shyness to introversion which doesn't necessarily hold water. But what is more identifiable by nature of introversion versus extroversion is social skills. Let me also state that I am going to be referencing the identifications of Carl Jung and archetypes involving this comparison. Introvert/Intravert - a person who has a preference for less social or not as participatory involving groupings and functions. Usually noted as a loner. Extrovert/Extravert - a person who has a strong preference for social environments, social interactions, is typically very outgoing and expressive in nature. Noted for gregarious nature and quite apt to relate and share very easily. This really is the ONLY thing noted about int's vs ext's. All other things are elaborations dependent on particular takes and the application of someone being an intro vs extro within other given situations. So in reference to this let me address the points you've brought up: 1. They think first, talk later -- This is not a characteristic of either one. Rather it is more a specialized skill of having active listening and a principle driving element of understanding. As such both introverts and extroverts can exhibit this skill. There are advantages to this in that for introverts it allows for interpersonal communication and relation skills to understand and relate to whom they are engaging contact with. For Extroverts it allows them to better relate to whomever their audience happens to be and also enhances their social skills of interactions. 2. They focus on depth -- This again is not a specific trait of either but it can be developed by both. The ability to focus on depth really is a maturity characteristic as any person can evolve or develop that nature. It's a usual nature for one to develop this as one has life experiences and has exposure to different cultures and ways of life. It's also within education - depending on one's attitudes involving education. 3. They exude calm. -- Again this is not a specific characteristic of either but it can be acquired or developed. This usually is a person who has learned the simple principles of life's journey and how to address issues that arise. It's typically characteristics again of maturity and getting older. However the principle nature of it stems from not taking things too seriously and/or being able to put everything into perspective. As there are mannerisms and ways of acting appropriately in accordance to given circumstances and situations. 4. They prefer writing to talking. -- This is a variant on the manner and ways a person communicates. Again its an exhibited characteristic accessible from either grouping. If you spin the social element to it...an extrovert can use whatever means possible to convey social interactions (writing, talking, body language, etc). For an introvert, it may be a more suitable method for communication but they are probably just as comfortable to talk versus write. The skill set involved is whether they are comfortable writers and well versed within the written style or do they have much more adept usage of speaking. 5. They embrace solitude -- NOW this is most definitely an introverted characteristic as it pays attention to a behavior in social or non-social circumstances. In this case the preference for solitude means they prefer being alone versus in groups. Now with those items addressed, here's my spin on it based on my own personal relating. Again I wanted to relate that this is a great article. Regardless of the association made. It I believe gets people interested and talking and also relating how they may see themselves within the identified position of the article. By nature I exhibit both traits depending on mood, circumstances, energy level, the topics being brought up for discussion and the people to whom are either audience or members of the group. I believe that most of the population will also within given circumstances. However within the defining characteristics of introvert and extrovert you have folks that fall into the extreme zone. I enjoy both solitude and social environments. Sincerely, Satori.

dkrodriguez
dkrodriguez

Thank you for writing this insightful article. Although I've always worked best in silence and solitariness, and would rather do the listening during social chit-chat, I am more than comfortable standing in front of a group of people and making a solid speech, or holding my own during an in-depth conversation. Kudos to Jennifer Kahnweiler for writing the original article, and to Toni Bowers for passing it on to those of us who may have never seen the original piece, if not for her article. Introverts unite!

18th Letter
18th Letter

Toni, thanks for finding and sharing this article. As an introvert I typically tried to avoid revealing myself to people who really did not understand that an introvert has nothing to do with shyness or unwillingness to deal with other people. Also, as an introvert I really didn't care to have to explain to them that that was not the case. You hit the points with a jack hammer, and if you've ever used a jack hammer (or seen one used) you'd know that it's not easy to operate. Thanks!

Gonzalo34
Gonzalo34

I'm also the introverted-but-not-shy kinda guy. Anyway, I think ego-assuring thoughts like "I look shy and boring for others because I'm gifted" might be even more misleading than the common int.=shy assumption. I think we all need to work out some social skills. A good leader might either work out his/her own people skills, or get surrounded by a more extroverted staff, that works as an interface between the leader and the team, a sort of "Darth Vader's Public Relations Dept." I'm sure you might have heard about the old DOS ping command, which just send garbage data to make sure that 2 computers are online. The light talk works the same way: it's just a vehicle to get to know other people. Analysed from the "left brain" point of view, it just wasted time talking about the weather, sports or meaningless things. For the "right brain", it's a complex negotiation involving non verbal skills, where you show some of yourself and get a snapshot of others' personality in a the least time possible. Said that, a light coffee talk or a party might be a good way to get to know your staff, build up leadership or trust, and it's much more effective than going around showing our qualifications.

GSG
GSG

I've tested out as an extreme introvert. While I like being around my friends and talking, I cannot stand when it gets loud and rowdy. It literally makes me exhausted, even if I'm not actively participating. After a while, I need some extended quiet time. That's why I never did well working in a cube farm or sharing an office. They stuck me in an office with an extrovert who did all of his communicating on the phone, and enjoyed talking to people. My dearest wish is to not even have a phone. Some days, I'd be so frustrated by the noise that I really thought about quitting. To be fair, the extrovert tried to have times of quiet, but it frustrated him as much as the noise did me. Luckily, we moved our offices and I was able to get my own office; tiny, but very secluded. The person who made the assignments made sure that I was at the very back of the department, in the most secluded office, in the most secluded dead-end hallway. Nirvana.

gpachello
gpachello

I would like to share the following phrase with you: As the speed of light is faster than the speed of sound, some people appear bright before you hear the bu##sh*t they say. Regards. GDP.

evanmathias
evanmathias

If something says your wonderful, you should be doubly doubtful. I think high IQ, EQ and ability to Rationalise are all valuable. Do any of the leaders you mention strike you as self promoting and cut throat? Maybe very good at removing the competition? And yet they might stand as pillars. We are all a bunch of hypocrites, except me, Im lovely.

amg8589
amg8589

My personality type has always been introverted, according to the tests. My friends and family find it odd that I am a technical trainer and very good at it! But I cherish my alone time and presenting drains me. This article gives great information and confirmed what I thought. YOu can be an extremely successful presenter but still be an introvert. thanks!

whit222
whit222

The subject said it all

aturner
aturner

I can appreciate your want to make introverts more desirable for leadership positions, but let us be fair and say it takes all types to lead and get the job done. I feel I have attributes from both types, but tend to be more of an extrovert. From my experience, introverts like to think in solitude and dictate the plan to their team later making it difficult to consider alternative thought paths. Once they stand firm on a decision they aren't going to consider any other thoughts on the matter. We tend to get better results in open table discussions. I am on a team with three individuals that are clearly introvert's by nature. They never want to discuss projects or tasks with the rest of the team. They just lock themselves in their respective offices and grind until a workable solutions presents itself. Just ten minutes of discussion could save a day of grief and getting a different prospective on an issue usually adds value to the finished product. That being said, I wouldn't want my co-workers to be extroverts like me because it takes all types to run a business. Together or apart we are always a team!

kjohnson
kjohnson

That isn't consistent with the usual findings of research. The usual finding is that the best leaders are extraverted, and have high emotional stability. This doesn't have any theoretical basis that I know of, it's an empirical finding.

maj37
maj37

Of course this article like many others tries to button hole people into a few, in this case 2, categories when in fact most people are somewhere in between. I like most others have some introverted tendancies and some extroverted tendencies, and these tendencies have changed over my life time. So to say that introverts are this or extroverts are that is very misleading. maj

Dr_Zinj
Dr_Zinj

It's not at all surprising that Bill Gates would be classified as an introvert. Most autistic spectrum disorder people fall into the introvert category, Gates being classified as having Asperger's. It's the natural inclination for introverts to be shy, or to shy away from most contacts. It requires a considerable amount of conditioning, training, willpower, and personal courage to overcome that tendency. But, as the source article indicates, the thoughtfulness of introversion, combined with willpower and courage of those who do overcome it, make for an amazingly powerful combination.

sutyakk
sutyakk

Another common misunderstanding. Introversion, in and of itself, does not mean that the person is a poor communicator. On the contrary, when introverts communicate, you can be guaranteed that their communication is well thought out and that consideration has been given to all points. Too often, we mistake a good leader as the loud mouth who is able to blurt out commands the quickest (sometimes without much thought). This can be counter-productive, limit their own ability to actively listen, and discourages real communication.

TGGIII
TGGIII

So often we get stuck in stereotypes and fail to leverage the strengths of ourselves and others.

melbert09
melbert09

What was said in the article sounds great, but try working for an introvert. Everyone is different I know, but in my experience I found it very difficult working for an introvert. I found that there was very little communication, everything was done by e-mail and basically he was unapprochable to the staff. Although a very nice guy and technically knew his stuff it just became too much for me, as the only time we really saw him was when something went wrong. Now I am probably talking about an extreme here, but being in management now I have found that you should be able to communicate verbally with people and be approchable to everyone.

andrewv
andrewv

I agree with every comment but in our company the people who get ahead are extroverted, loud, able to create and illusion and, to be very honest, not the brightest. It's 90% politics and 5% real work. Sad.

surya_chd
surya_chd

Nice article, but is this only me or anyone also not able to view the photos in the comments?

fwamala
fwamala

..in terms of personal development can one grow from being introvert to extrovert..or vice verse...bearing in mind the pros & cons of being either

tocnos
tocnos

I to am an Introvert and this article is great and reassuring

K_Green
K_Green

It's a shame that everyone's personality types aren't routinely assessed, and somehow made obvious to everyone around. I think it would help people interact immensely. I found this site had quite useful tips on how to communicate effectively with different personality types: http://www.personalityexplorer.com/home/FREEResources/CommunicationStrategiesForVariousPersonalities.aspx And this site gives a tongue-in-cheek but ironically accurate review of personality types: http://www.xeromag.com/fun/personality.html If you don't know your personality type, this is an excellent online free test: http://www.humanmetrics.com/cgi-win/JTypes1.htm My personality, according to that test is INTJ (I=89 N=38 T=88 J=100). While some introverts may make good leaders, I personally don't aspire to it. The opportunity to make positive changes is tempting. But then I think of all the political and personnel-related issues and I want to run screaming in the other direction.

bobp
bobp

Thank you for this article. Because I am an extreme extrovert and my roommate is an extreme introvert, there are sometimes issues. I already knew that the definitions have more to do with how we recharge our batteries than what we first appear. I talk about daily life and he ignores me. From my point of view, he is self-centered and cares only about himself. From his point of view, I talk too much and about "nothing." That understanding certainly helps in finding a wife who I can energize and who can energize me - both to greater achievement. She won't be like my roommate. :-). Yes, I know this isn't work-related, but it is interesting - at least to me. :-) We are both in computer-related jobs. I try and teach people when I fix their computers or create their websites. He hates doing customer service. I like it. Surprisingly, many people used to think I was quiet - until I got up in front of a group to speak.

amkent
amkent

Thank you for the article. My director and I just had a conversation concerning the fact that we are both introverts but have been able to pull the team together and accomplish an astonishing amount of work....one of our biggest headaches? An extroverted manager....you just never know!

Flyers70
Flyers70

I think the article says that introverts "can" make the best leaders. Your headline suggests that they "do" make the best leaders. Everyone has a different leadership style, with attendant strengths and differences. The key is that a leader must be able to command respect and obviously, if someone exudes "quiet strength", they are commanding respect. They just do so differently than what we are taught (and certainly, different than the stereotype of the successful corporate leader). The article also talks about having to work harder because introverts are often misunderstood and therefore, need to work to overcome being ignored or dismissed. That part, I couldn't agree more with, as I experience it daily.

VincenzoAI
VincenzoAI

It sounds like an Extroverts understanding of the characteristic. Although if you are just throwing out a what-if 'concept' then I agree it would be bizarre. Thankfully all the Introverts I know are 'not shy' and 'do know'.

JackOfMostTrades
JackOfMostTrades

Myers-Brigg is very accurate in my opinion. I'm also an INTJ engineer, but I haven't actually considered myself shy since I was a kid. I have a constant struggle with my extroverted boss (who also happens to be my dad). We own a small engineering and fabrication firm that my dad started. My dad is awesome at sales (though he hates doing it). If you actually get him into a room with a potential customer, because he's such a knowledgeable engineer, he can talk just about anybody into doing business with us. I can talk with important people just fine and most people find me very likable, but I just don't have the confidence or patience to actually sell to people. However, when it comes to company and project management, those same traits have totally opposite effects. When I've got something to plan, I go into my office, close the door, and start laying out the who's, what's, when's, and how's of the project. Then I might hold a meeting or go to each person individually and get everyone started using that plan. My dad's immediate reaction to the same circumstance is to call a meeting. Sometimes, just about the whole office is there, and we immediately start discussing what to do on the project with everyone. Unsurprisingly, this design by committee is fairly chaotic and not very productive, but I think my dad feels more comfortable in that sort of situation. I agree with with just about everything in this article and comments. I also think I do a pretty good job at project managing by thinking something out internally before I pronounce its solution to everyone. I also definitely agree that I've paid for it. Closing my door to think clearly is seen as not being engaged, when it's the exact opposite. Taking extra time to plan something or refusing to give an immediate answer to a customer or vendor is seen as indecisive instead of cautious and thoughtful. The extroverts of the world are the sprinters who have the immediate advantage in a race. The introverts are the long-distance runners who may come out on top in the end if the race lasts long enough.

rjmedina
rjmedina

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is about the combination of your traits and the overall result. Therefore, you can have some introverted traits and still be an ENTJ. Your personality type can also change over time. You may want to retest. I am ENTJ and I have some introvert traits. Look back at your "numbers". You may be a borderline extrovert. For example, my extrovert number is usually no more than 5 above my introvert number. Meaning I'm just barely an extrovert. However, I identify most with the personality traits of ENTJ. There are some traits of the INTJ, that do apply to me, but the best fit is ENTJ.

sissy sue
sissy sue

However, you don't have to be an extrovert to understand the value of communication. I'm very introverted, and communication is my field. I think today's technology can cause isolation, because it is far too easy to communicate via our tools/toys than face-to-face. For my part, I would not like to work in any organization where the guy in the next cube would rather email you than talk with you face-to-face. However, I'm well aware of how toxic it can be to deal with a boss who would rather not talk with you. He'll get his information from someone more politically connected or more aggressive or ambitious than you, who will sabotage your career by lying, putting you down behind your back, or exaggerating his own accomplishments. Rather than coming to you to verify his henchman's boasts, the boss will believe him. That is when you know that it is time to find yourself a new situation.

sissy sue
sissy sue

That's the way it is in this world, which is why introverts are always overlooked. I wonder how many geniuses were never allowed to blossom because they were repressed by the politically connected. In this world, the best and brightest usually don't succeed, because the people with the power won't let them.

suzan.reagan
suzan.reagan

I agree with you. We should all spend time assessing our personality type and using that knowledge to make better choices and interaction with others. I like some of the materials found at http://www.careeronestop.org/TESTING/TestingAssessmentHome.asp for career choices. I too do not want to become the boss for the same reasons. All the headaches in that situation out way the good points.

Spitfire_Sysop
Spitfire_Sysop

Different personality types are obviously better suited for different things. There is a time an a place for everything. I agree with this article but it needs a scope. I'm sure people from the Armed forces would agree. Certain personality types excel in certain situations. Introverts are certainly better managers\leaders in IT. If we look at it in this context instead of such a broad sweeping statment I think it makes more sense.

lesam
lesam

In the real world Leadership and Management are as misunderstood as Shy and Introverted.

sissy sue
sissy sue

You said that introverts have to work harder because they are often misunderstood, and, therefore, must overcome being ignored or dismissed. I, too, often feel that way. However, I am also a shy person, which adds to my often being taken for granted. In truth, I could never stand idle chit-chat and shallow conversation. In school, I was more likely to have my nose in a book before class, rather than laughing it up with my classmates. And, yes, just as Toni indicates, I am much more comfortable with writing my thoughts than speaking them, especially since I have strong and rather unorthodox opinions. I have not yet followed Toni's link, but I am wondering whether other introverts agree that high school was hell, but college was a much more rewarding experience, as emphasis was placed on academic performance rather than popularity.

jnunamaker
jnunamaker

...thats just a bad boss. :) Any boss who doesnt investigate an issue directly, or at least confirm the information they're given isn't doing their job and shouldn't be in charge in the first place.

jlippens
jlippens

Yes, High School was hell and I am consider an ENTJ....Agree with you completely on college, more focus on achievements and the future with less on popularity.