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The Quiet Power of Introverts

Posted on August 29, 2012 by Leslie Dickson

The classic Hollywood image of a leader is that gregarious extrovert in the middle of the group, tossing out ideas a mile a minute, brainstorming, “spit-balling”, and cajoling the group to a neat solution for a weighty problem before lunchtime.

Only trouble? It doesn’t seem to be the truth – at least not the whole truth – about introverts and extroverts.

A recent article in The Atlantic magazine by Susan Cain, reported on research by Adam Grant, a management professor at Wharton, who found introvert leaders generally achieve better outcomes from their teams than their extrovert counterparts. The reason? Introvert leaders are more likely to give team members a challenge and then turn them loose to pursue solution. The extrovert may actually inhibit the initiative of proactive team members, though teams identified as “less proactive” do tend need an extrovert’s energy to get moving.

Einstein, Warren Buffett and Dr. Seuss

That brings up the next question. Could it be that extrovert leaders are under-utilizing their introvert colleagues?  Maybe, says Cain, an admitted introvert and the author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. There’s research that indicates introverts show strength in the persistence it takes to untangle tough problems. That often requires some quiet thinking time. Other studies show that creative minds often find solutions in solitary deliberation.

Here are three pretty good examples of the potential. Albert Einstein, Warren Buffett and Dr. Seuss, aka Theodore Geisel. They’re all self-proclaimed introverts or acknowledge their use of solitude and singular focus as key to success.

When Extroverts Should Embrace Their Inner Introvert

For starters, just remember that your natural approach may not be the best one for your whole team. Of course, today’s world always requires collaboration, but if brainstorming sessions and group projects are your default approach, you may actually be setting up roadblocks to good solutions. Build in both collaboration and solitary thinking time to see what your introverts can bring to the table.

Think about how your extroversion might be inadvertently reinforcing a lack of initiative in your team. The Wharton study Cain references notes that extroverted leaders do outperform introverts when they manage a team described as “less proactive workers” who turn to their leader for direction. I’m wondering if there’s a self-fulfilling prophecy here. If a leader fosters an expectation of “you run with it” instead of “I’ll call the group together”, everyone may benefit.

When Introverts Should Masquerade As Extroverts.

Imagine a best-selling fiction writer in a cavernous auditorium at a national book festival. You could hear a pin drop as she read a moving section from her best-selling novel. She then talked about the writer’s process of turning the story into a script for a play. During the Q&A session, someone asked if she’d be playing a role in the play – noting her beautiful reading.

The author laughed. “I’m an introvert who sometimes masquerades as an extrovert to sell books.” While a quiet studio may be her Comfort Zone, she learned some ways to get beyond it for her own good. You’ve read about many of them here.  Breathe. Smile. Take a strong posture. Prepare. Concentrate on what your audience needs, not your own discomfort. By the way, I can vouch for this one first hand…turns out I’m an introvert myself, but a measure of extroversion goes with a CEO’s job description.

Want to talk more about introverts, extroverts, how to get the best from (and be the best of) both? Let’s talk! VoicePro offers workshops and private coaching that can make a difference.

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