The Introverted leader

Sumathi V Selvaretnam 02 Aug 2012

Extroverted employees who speak up, organise things and give direction are often earmarked for future leadership. Yet, many successful business leaders such as Bill Gates and Warren Buffet are known for their introverted personalities. It is thus critical for HR to realise the value of its quiet but talented employees, and ensure that they do not fall below the radar.

Introverted leaders can even be more effective than their extroverted cousins in certain circumstances, say business school academics Adam Grant, Francesca Gino and David Hoffman in their paper, Reversing the Extroverted Leadership Advantage: The Role of Employee Proactivity, published in the Academy of Management Journal. According to their research, extroverted leaders are more successful when leading passive employees. Introverted leaders, on the other hand, do well in an environment filled with proactive employees as they are better at listening and including employee feedback in decision-making.

Introverts are known to lead with a quiet calm. “They think before they speak which is so critical in this day of knee-jerk reactions,” says Jennifer Kahnweiler, international speaker, author and executive coach. They are also able to build trust through one-on-one conversations, she adds. “Their considered responses convey depth versus breadth.”

Such leaders also offer a sense of stability that can be an asset to an organisation, says Pushp Deep Gupta, Managing Principal, Korn/Ferry International, Leadership and Talent Consulting. “They are able to get the organisation to elevate the level of thinking, especially to consider potential downsides to risky strategies and bets that it makes.” Whereas extroverted leaders sometimes go overboard by rallying the troops and ‘over believing’ their own point of views and stories, introverted leaders process data and information in a relatively slow and deliberate way. “They do not needlessly rush into doing things that other extroverted leaders might be guilty of occasionally,” Gupta adds.

What are their weaknesses

Introverted leaders face some unique challenges at the workplace due to their personality traits. For example, they typically would do less well on what many call the ‘Organisational Positioning’ cluster of leadership competencies, such as presentation skills and political savviness, says Gupta. “They might not be able to put their point of view strongly enough in organisations, which means that their true potential might remain untapped.”

According to Gupta, introverts might lose out in the ‘race’ to the top in organisations, given that extroverted leaders might be ‘able to talk the needed talk’. Introverted leaders also might come across as being aloof and insular in the way that they interact with others, sending out unintended impressions, which again might come in the way of their overall effectiveness and progress.

Introverted leaders are more susceptible to people exhaustion, and benefit from having some time out to recharge their batteries, says Kahnweiler. Negative impressions from not revealing much on their faces, underselling themselves, and work overload from not speaking up when they are overextended are some of the other issues that may arise.

Supporting their growth and development

It is worthwhile for organisations to pause and listen to the introverts in their midst, says Kahnweiler. “Ask them questions, solicit their input on key decisions, and don’t rely on talking as the only tool of communication. Introverts appreciate having time to reflect on a problem or issue, so try connecting with them through writing.”

Introverts generally prefer emails and text messages over phone conversations, Kahnweiler says. Social media networks like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter also serve as useful modes of communication for this group of employees.

During meetings, encourage balanced participation so that introverts have an opportunity to speak up, says Kahnweiler. Setting an agenda before the meeting also enables them to prepare in advance.

Organisations can also help introverted leaders to develop their situational awareness, so that they can assess the levels of extroversion needed for different situations. “Introverted leaders need to find forums which are different from those tapped by extroverted leaders, to ensure that they can articulate their point of views and opinions,” Gupta says.

Experts conclude that introverted leaders can be as effective as their more outgoing counterparts, especially with the right support and opportunities. Kahnweiler says, “Many coaching clients tell me that their best boss was an introvert.”

Understanding introverts

+       Seeking solitude

          Introverts prefer quiet, private spaces at the workplace and enjoy managing projects on their own, or with a small and trusted group

+       Think first and talk later

          Introverts are good listeners and like to think before they speak

+       Digging deep

          Introverts prefer depth over breadth, and like digging deep into an issue before moving on to another one

+       Calm and collected

          Unlike extroverts, introverts are quiet and reserved, and do not desire to be the centre of attention

Source: Dr Jennifer Kahnweiler, international speaker, author and executive coach



+       Adjusting to leadership of a new team can take time, as introverted leaders rely heavily on one-to-one relationships

+       Introverted leaders tend to take time to trust people

+       Introverted leaders can unwittingly appear unfriendly and uncaring to people who do not know them well

+       It can be comforting, given the choice, to build a team of other introverts, but this can have limitations

Source: Introverted Leadership Toolkit (supported by the South Central Strategic Health Authority and the Welsh Government)


Famous introverts

+       Bill Gates, former CEO and current chairman of Microsoft

+       Warren Buffet, American business magnate, investor and philanthropist

+       Larry Page, Co-founder, Google

+       Douglas Conant, CEO, Campbell Soup



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Commented by: Gadibotsile at 31 Oct 2012 09:21 PM Report this comment
this article has really helped me because i am one of those. i am in a middle management position and my subordinates are all extroverts. Thank you

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