Introversion, The Hidden Gem of Leadership
What makes good leaders? Recruiters often explain it as a combination of achievements, qualifications, and people skills. Surprisingly, personality traits and the rapport the potential hire or employee has with the manager are in favor of all other factors.
According to a survey published in Industrial Psychiatry, among the general population, introverts and extroverts are roughly 50/50. As soon as we take the first step up the career ladder to the level of supervisor, however, the percentage of extroverts jumps to 88%, and it only gets worse from there. By the time we hit senior executives, introverts comprise only 2% percent of the population.
The reason lurks behind the modern workplace that generally caters to the extrovert in open spaces, collaborative tasks, and the expectation of constantly being connected which actually deprives the introvert of the quiet and solitude where they produce their best work.
“Any time people come together in a meeting; we’re not necessarily getting the best ideas; we’re just getting the ideas of the best talkers” – Susan Cain
The entire reason Apple got off the ground was because Steve Wozniak locked himself away to solve the problem of how to reduce the amount of chips on a circuit board. Were he forced to do it in an open office, Steve Jobs likely wouldn’t have had anything to sell.
Susan Cain is a graduate of Harvard Law School, a popular TED speaker, an introvert, and author of the revolutionary book “Quiet : The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking”, reported that studies in group dynamics conclude:
“We perceive talkers as smarter…even though grade-point averages and SAT intelligence scores reveal this perception to be inaccurate” – Susan Cain
The Science behind it.
Published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, a 1999 study on the Cerebral blood flow and personality proves that introversion is associated with increased activity in frontal lobe regions of the brain, then followed current neuroscience studies revealing the difference in the neural pathways for introverts and extroverts in the same area, explained by Dr Laney who is a researcher, educator, psychotherapist, and author of “How to thrive in an Extroverted World”.
The neural pathways that are more active in extroverts are associated with Dopamine, while the pathways that are more active in introverts are associated with Acetylcholine. So what does all this means?
Dopamine plays a major role in the motivational component of reward-motivated behavior, and Acetylcholine is key component to attention, learning, and memory. Therefore, introverts are stimulated in reflection, thinking and planning for the future while extroverts are stimulated with interpretation of direct sensory information.
Executive Search Firms, Recruiters, and Talent Management Officers.
It is assumed that collaborative teams are the best mechanism for generating new ideas that will find success in the marketplace. While an extrovert thrives in a team environment, the introvert typically does not, yet this is the type of environment the business gurus have been preaching for the past 20 years.
Organizations large and small don’t understand the needs of introverts, don’t value their contributions, and therefore are wasting an important resource, typically 1/3 or 1/2 of any organization are introverted.
“The most effective teams are composed of a healthy mix of introverts and extroverts, studies show, and so are leadership structures” – Susan Cain
The above findings suggest that leaders should be the first to practice awareness and truly differentiate behaviors to alter their perception of introverts/extroverts and avoid unproductive bias whether in the selection process, retaining employees or managing them.
- Notably, an introvert is most likely a better fit for a strategic C-level role or even board memberships, while extroverts are a better fit for operational roles that requires constant contact with people, negotiation, and follow-up.
- Simultaneously, leaders can motivate introverts by recognizing their efforts in private or offer telecommuting if it’s feasible, and motivate extroverts by recognizing their accomplishments publicly or assign them to team projects whenever possible.
“The best leaders learn when it serves to be extroverted and when it serves to be introverted” – Dermot Buffini
Thus, we emphasize on the importance of a multi-dimensional assessment that provides the psychological map of each individual, merging cognitive abilities, personality traits, and emotional intelligence all together, to grasp an understanding on the subtle dynamics that relate not only to individual performance, but to the overall organizational effectiveness and cultural coherence.
Bringing it all together
There needs to be a more healthy balance between collaborative team time and time for employees to work independently. Such a balance will create a more harmonious and productive work environment because it satisfies the needs of both the extroverts and introverts in your organization.
It is a matter of identifying individual differences and taking advantage of the strengths of each individual while managing their weaknesses, to provide the convenient atmosphere for ultimate productivity, efficiently utilize your introverts, and redefine leadership.
“It makes sense that introverts are uniquely good at leading initiative-takers. Because of their inclination to listen to others and lack of interest in dominating social situations, introverts are more likely to hear and implement suggestions..Introverted leaders create a virtuous circle of pro-activity” – Susan Cain
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