“Introverts need to speak-up” was a comment in a recent discussion about why a large percentage of leaders are extroverts. Before we dive in to the ‘speak-up’ admonishment, it’s helpful to understand that introversion is different from shyness. It’s all about where you get your energy. Extroverts thrive on external stimulation, and generally become more exhilarated and energized by interacting with people. Introverts can only take a certain amount of interaction before they need to spend some alone time to recharge. Contrary to some common assumptions, they are not necessarily shy, reserved, cold or lacking social skills.
Many of the people we celebrate as great inventors, creators and entrepreneurs are more introverted than not. It’s that time ‘in their heads’ that allows them to focus on creative solutions. And statistically, the best leaders are whole-brained and somewhere in the middle of the extrovert/ introvert continuum [ambiverts]. If you think about it, it makes sense because a truly effective leader thrives on inspiring and engaging others, but is also analytical and introspective enough to plan and solve problems.
One [very bright, talented – and introverted] coaching client told me that she had always emailed her ideas to her leader when the meeting was over. It was too stressful for her to try to interject her ideas in a meeting that consisted mostly of extroverts. As we worked together, she agreed to offer at least one new idea in each meeting when appropriate. As time passed and she had positive learning experiences and feedback from sharing openly, she realized that withholding her best ideas from the group meant that she had missed the chance for connections, collaboration, feedback – and respect.
So why don’t introverts speak-up more often?
One reason is that it doesn’t come naturally to them. Introverts often prefer time to think about an idea rather than responding immediately, and may be ‘in their head’ turning over the topic – so they can miss the chance for air time in a meeting. It’s said that “Introverts think and then talk; extroverts talk to think.” Another learned skill is managing the minority of extroverts [sometimes in senior leadership] who tend to steamroll, interrupt, talk over, and generally shut introverts down – often while blissfully unaware of their impact.
The reality is that diversity in its many forms is a great advantage to teams.
It encourages new ways of thinking, solving problems, challenging the status quo, and ultimately driving successful innovation. Introversion/ extroversion is one element of diversity. Along with all the other challenges of managing diversity in teams, leaders have a primary responsibility to facilitate effective communication and collaboration. This includes encouraging inclusion and tolerance for different ‘styles’ and discouraging making assumptions and demonizing people we don’t understand. Knowing how to effectively dim the lights of over-zealous extroverts when necessary and encourage participation by overly-cautious introverts – while taking care not to disengage either – is a true leadership art. It is one that is well worth nurturing.
– Are you more often an introvert, an extrovert, or are you essentially an ambivert [some of each]?
– How has your style worked to your advantage or disadvantage?
– Stories? Anecdotes? Challenges? Questions?
One of many articles on the topic – this one from psychology today.
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