It’s rare that you see the words “introvert” and “leader” in the same sentence. After all, the common perception is that extroverts make great public speakers and are excellent networkers — two things CEOs and organizational leaders must be — and that introverts are not. In fact, a poll conducted by USA Today cited 65 percent of executives who believed introversion to be a barrier to leadership.
Interestingly, the same article highlights that roughly 40 percent of leaders actually are introverted — they’re just better at adapting themselves to situational demands. Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and Charles Schwab are just a few “innies.”
If you are considering starting a business but don’t consider yourself a social butterfly, here are six truths about introverts that you should know about:
1. Introverts are prudent.
Unlike their extroverted counterparts who are more sensitive to rewards, which explains why extroverts are more pre-disposed to risk-taking, introverts take a circumspect approach to chance. This is why you hear extroverts say things such as, “Let’s just do it!” whereas introverts prefer to ask, “are we sure this is the right thing to do?”
Why is knowing this an entrepreneurial advantage? Risk-taking is a rite of passage for any founder yet can often feel awkward. You may vacillate between yes and no, go and no-go while you weigh different options. Now you know why.
Recognizing how you’re predisposed to decision-making is how you improve, and entrepreneurs make impactful decisions every day. Second, while every startup necessitates some risk to propel it forward, it also requires prudence in capital and resources.
2. Introverts learn by listening.
Rather than the flashy chit-chat that defines social gatherings, introverts listen intently to what others say and internalize it before they speak. They’re not thinking about what to say while the other person is still talking, but rather listening so they can learn what to say.
Along the same lines, introverts share a common love of learning, according to bestselling author and founder of Quiet Revolution, Susan Cain. They are intrinsically motivated and therefore seek content regardless of achieving an external standard. How’s that for a performance standard?
3. Introverts leverage their quiet nature.
Remember being in school and hearing the same kids contribute, until shy little Johnny — who never said a peep — chimed in? Then what happened? Everyone turned around to look in awe at little Johnny actually talking. This is how introverts leverage their power of presence: they “own” the moment by speaking calmly and deliberately, which translates to a positive perception.
4. Introverts demonstrate humility.
Not to say that extroverts aren’t humble, but introverts tend to have an accurate sense of their abilities and achievements (not to be confused with underestimated). Humility entails the ability to acknowledge mistakes, imperfections, knowledge gaps and limitations — all key ingredients for getting ahead in business and life.
Being humble also indicates an openness to hear new ideas or receive contradictory information.
5. Introverts manage uncertainty.
Since introverts have a lower sensitivity to external rewards than extroverts, they’re more comfortable working with little information and resisting self-defeating impulses. Introverts are also more likely to persist in finding solutions that aren’t initially apparent.
Don’t believe me? Maybe you’ll believe Albert Einstein, who said, “It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s that I stay with problems longer.”
Call me crazy (you wouldn’t be the first), but finding certainty where uncertainty typically prevails is a huge plus for any entrepreneur.
6. Introverts are comfortable working alone.
Even if you start a company through a partnership or joint venture, you will likely find yourself working alone at some point in your career. Introverts prefer working in isolation because it affords the greatest opportunity to focus.
Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple, put it this way, “Most inventors and engineers I have met are like me — they’re shy and they live in their heads. They work best when they are alone, and can control an invention’s design. I’m going to give you some advice that might be hard to take: work alone. You’re going to be able to design revolutionary products and features.”
The myth that introverts are less effective leaders than their extroverted brethren is just that. Leverage your personality strengths to lead your business no matter what side of the spectrum you fall on.