By now, you’ve probably heard about Susan Cain’s new book, “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.” Time magazine did a cover story and most major publications have followed suit with reviews or features about the power of being quiet. I don’t know that there’s anything new about the fact that about 30 percent of our population—myself included—are introverts. What’s new, perhaps, is the attention introverts are now getting because of the book—and the fact that introversion is actually a much more productive force in organizations and our society than commonly thought.
When I took the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator a few years ago, it confirmed what I already knew: I’m an Introvert (I). At the time, I wasn’t sure being an I was necessarily a good thing given my career path as a manager. But I’ve since learned to embrace and draw on what I consider the strengths of introversion. So I have been very pleased to see Cain step forward and extol the virtues of “quiet.”
I do think that it is harder for introverts to succeed in the business world, especially when you get to the top of the food chain and must spend significant “face time” with clients or customers. As a recent USA Today article points out, introverts often have to force themselves to be outgoing in order to get ahead and become leaders. I can attest to that as someone who hasn’t always felt comfortable being “visible” at industry functions or networking events. I would say that introverts who can be “ambiverts” when they need to be are actually more resourceful and socially attuned than their “loud,” extroverted peers. But it’s a shame, perhaps even harmful, that our society places such a premium on being extroverted and undervalues the “quiet” people who in many cases are the ones actually getting things done.
Cain has catalogued the many positives of being an introvert in the form of a manifesto. Among the gems that she includes in the “Sixteen things I believe”:
- There’s a word for “people who are in their heads too much”: thinkers.
- Our culture rightly admires risk-takers, but we need our “heed-takers” more than ever.
- Solitude is a catalyst for innovation.
- Rule of thumb for networking events: one genuine new relationship is worth a fistful of business cards.
- “Quiet leadership” is not an oxymoron.
There are many successful leaders who are introverts, among them Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and Charles Schwab. You could probably add to that list President Obama. What are their strengths? Jennifer B. Kahnweiler, the author of “The Introverted Leader: Building on Your Quiet Strength,” gives five:
1. Introverted leaders think before they speak. Even in casual conversations, they consider others’ comments carefully, and they stop and reflect before responding.
2. Introverted leaders seek depth over breadth. They like to dig deep, delving into issues and ideas before moving on to new ones. 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. Introverted leaders are low-key. In times of crisis, they project a reassuring, calm confidence…they speak softly and slowly regardless of the heat of the conversation or circumstances.
4. Introverted leaders usually 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. Introverted leaders are energized by spending time alone.
If you are in a management position, you would do well to consider the personality traits of your team. Introverts do better one-on-one and in small groups, and they need time to reflect before responding. Also, just because they prefer to be alone or shut their door doesn’t mean they aren’t team players. That time alone re-energizes them and gives them a chance to clarify how they can contribute to your organization’s goals. I have found most introverts to be incredibly tenacious and loyal, and less likely to give up on a task or leave an organization than extroverts.
So if you’re an introvert, give yourself a big pat on the back (quietly and in the privacy of your office, of course).