“Quiet people have the loudest minds.” – Stephen Hawking
Charisma—it’s a trait many of us would love to have. People with charisma often get what they want, seemingly, just by being socially acceptable. They are often in the spotlight and receive a lot of attention. Those without charisma flock to those that have it, eager to be a part of their magnetic glow. So if you have charisma, you’re a born leader. Right? Well, maybe that’s not the only thing it takes to be a leader.
It is true—leaders need to be present, capable, and good communicators. However, not all leaders are, or prefer to be, in the spotlight. In fact, the very trait called charisma, associated with extraversion, can be a curse as well as a blessing. Extroverts are far more likely to take risks even when common sense means that no good can come from their efforts. For example, extroverts are more likely to continue gambling even when the odds are against them (Cain, 2012, p. 166).
When you’re on fire, it’s hard to control the blaze.
Most aspects of leadership require more than just making a sale or motivating a team. Sometimes a leader must step back and give his or her staff the responsibility to carry through.
I’ve been doing a lot of research lately on what it takes to be a leader. In particular, I’ve been reading Susan Cain’s new book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. My quest was to determine the best qualities of a leader, but what I found was that socially acceptable traits that are espoused as leadership potential are really nothing more than a smoke screen. According to Cain (2012), “we tend to think that becoming more extroverted not only makes us more successful, but also makes us better people. We see salesmanship as a way of sharing one’s gifts with the world” (p. 42). To some extent, this notion can be true, but it is worth stating, nevertheless, that even though a leader’s personality may have some bearing on their leadership style, it does not determine whether or not they might be a good leader.
I have often been told that because I’m an introvert, leadership may not be my strong suit. There is this perception in much of society that all introverts are shy, too timid to close a deal or motivate a team (Kahnweiler as cited in Taylor, 2012). But, here’s the funny thing: I’m not shy. I love being with people. I work with the team-building committee in the office. I enjoy throwing events and parties at home and for coworkers. My quietness has nothing to do with avoiding relationships with anyone. Fear has nothing to do with it. I’ve been told I need to “come out of my shell,” or even that I should be louder and more assertive. What these well-meaning advisors really mean is that I should be pushy. The false assumption is that introverts are being pushed around, so we should learn to push back. This can be a damaging assumption and is completely misguided. I make a distinction between aggressiveness and assertiveness. You can be assertive without being pushy.
I’m sure my fellow introverts would agree: we talk when we have something to say. Most of us can be assertive when we need to be, but not every conversation is a competition for superiority. An introvert does not feed off the energy of others. In fact, we give out energy, which is precious to us. Social interaction is sometimes desired, but there are times when we can have too much of a good thing. Extroverts are the opposite. They need human interaction to build energy and so they appear to be more adept at social interaction (Moore, 2012). How often an extrovert or introvert is on or off socially, completely depends on other variables of their personality. Let’s be honest: everyone is different, no matter how much we might be the same.
Confining someone to the “just an introvert” or “just an extravert” stereotype can be dangerous for relationships and business. Moore (2012) argues that “just because a person has introverted or extroverted tendencies doesn’t mean they can’t learn from and utilize traits from the other end of the spectrum.” We all have strengths we can bring to the table. Carl Jung, who created the concepts of introvert and extrovert, famously noted, “There’s no such thing as a pure introvert or a pure extrovert. Such a man would be in the lunatic asylum.” In fact, Jung’s personality types should really be split into three. Although most people identify as either an introvert or extrovert, many of us might really be ambiverts, able to take on traits from both personalities when needed. True ambiverts have an easier time finding a balance between social and nonsocial activities (Cain, 2012, p. 14).
It’s an odd feeling being pigeonholed into the shy category. It’s easy to dismiss those who think before talking as being incapable or uninterested. The sad reality is that quickly made decisions rarely are the best decisions. Cain (2012) asserts, “we need to find a balance between action and reflection” (p. 170). When meetings and brainstorming activities are slowed down, everyone benefits from the extra time to think through the ideas at hand.
Introverts have much to contribute to the process, but they shouldn’t have to shout to be heard. Current societal standards praise the loud and the proud (Cain, 2012, p. 42). Our lives are so fast-paced that sometimes the mantra of “act first, think later” is espoused. However, recent findings have suggested that this go-getter attitude is not what makes a successful business leader. According to Cain (2012), “contrary to the Harvard Business School model of vocal leadership, the ranks of effective CEOs turn out to be filled with introverts, including Charles Schwab; Bill Gates; Brenda Barnes, CEO of Sara Lee; and James Copeland, former CEO of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu.” As it turns out, the one thing effective leaders have in common is that they have little or no charisma whatsoever (p. 53).
This is not to say that extroverts cannot be good leaders. I personally love working with extroverts. They shake things up! Sometimes the best way to motivate yourself is to do something outside of your basic nature. Extroverts encourage creativity and exploration when they take a gentle approach with introverts. Introverts keep the extreme extroverts focused. The point is to keep the personalities in balance and to understand the unique way individuals may approach a task.
So, is it really true that introverts are too soft-spoken to take on executive or managerial tasks, or is it simply that the tasks are seldom offered to introverts? I really think it is a lack of experience that keeps many introverts from having a chance to excel in leadership roles, be it taking the lead on a project or being a CEO of a major company. A leader is not just defined by his or her actions, but by the actions of those they lead. What really matters is the leader’s ability to clearly define what they need from their team and that they are approachable. According to author David Rock, “effective leaders should focus on mentoring, empowering and developing people” (as cited in Williams, 2012). If you are inspiring your employees or colleagues to greatness, it doesn’t matter what personality type you have.
Charisma is overrated. Results are forever.
So, even though my introvertedness makes me seem not as gregarious a person in public, I am proud of who I am and I’m ready to meet new challenges—I would just like to take my time to fully analyze the facts. Cain (2012) makes a great point when she acknowledges that “there are many paths to a satisfying life” (p. 259). Some prefer to walk the path; others prefer to run. Either way, we all have the same destination.
So, yes, I am an introvert, and I can change…when I want to.
Cain. S. (2012). Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking. New York, NY: Broadway Paperbacks.
Moore, K. (2012, August 22). Introverts No Longer the Quiet Followers of Extroverts. Forbes. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/karlmoore/2012/08/22/introverts-no-longer-the-quiet-followers-of-extroverts/
Taylor, J. (2012, October 29). Leadership for Introverts. Small Business Computing. Retrieved from http://www.smallbusinesscomputing.com/tipsforsmallbusiness/leadership-for-introverts.html
Williams, R. (2012, May 25). Why It’s Time for Quiet, Introverted Leaders. Wired for Success. Retrieved from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/wired-success/201205/why-it-s-time-quiet-introverted-leaders
I recommend that introverts and extroverts alike read Susan Cain’s Quiet. It has some valuable insights into both personality traits and focuses on positives from both ends of the spectrum. I also recommend viewing her TED Talk on “The power of introverts”.