Our lives are profoundly shaped by our personality, just like they are by our gender or race. The two main personality types are introverts and extroverts. An introvert is defined as a typically reserved or quiet person who tends to be introspective and enjoys spending time alone. An extrovert is defined as a typically gregarious and unreserved person who enjoys and seeks out social interaction. Our place on the introvert-extrovert continuum has great influence, from how we choose friends and partners, to how we make conversation, resolve differences, show love, choose careers and whether or not we succeed at them.
Throughout your personal and professional life, you might have heard several of these words to describe a leader: bold, outgoing, magnetic, dominant, forceful, energetic, charismatic. Many of these characteristics are typically used to describe extroverts, the personality type that has historically been championed in the workplace and associated with good leadership.
As an introvert, I knew that many of these characteristics did not describe my personality, but I also knew that I possessed leadership qualities and skills that are valuable in different ways than those of extroverts. I recently read the book, “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” by Susan Cain, which opened my eyes to the unique skills I bring to the table by harnessing my power as an introvert.
At least one-third of the people we know are introverts — the ones who prefer listening to speaking, who innovate and create but dislike self-promotion, who prefer to work on their own instead of working in teams — including many who are responsible for some of the greatest contributions to society, such as Rosa Parks, Frédéric Chopin, Dr. Seuss and Bill Gates. If you are an introvert, consider these strengths and how to leverage them in the workplace:
We tend to overestimate how outgoing leaders need to be. In fact, most corporate decision-making is done in small meetings or at a distance through written and video communication, rather than in front of big groups. Of course that is required at times, but not always. Today, virtually all U.S. organizations work in teams, some virtual, others face-to-face. Teamwork and collaboration are often elevated above all else, insisting that creativity and intellectual achievement come from a gregarious place.
But there is magic in solitude, which is the preference for many introverts. In many fields, it’s only when you’re alone that you can engage in deliberate practice, touted by some psychologists as the key to exceptional achievement. When you practice deliberately, you identify the tasks or knowledge that are just out of your reach, strive to upgrade your performance, monitor your progress and revise accordingly. Introverts can tap into their highest potential by spending time alone, so consider finding ways to incorporate this into your daily personal and professional life, even if it means resisting the norm in your workplace setting.
According to a famous study by the influential management theorist Jim Collins, many of the most exceptional CEOs in recent history were not known for their flash or charisma, but for extreme humility coupled with intense professional will. There is power in quiet leadership and it does not mean you do not have fierce resolve. “Quiet” details one CEO who many described as “humble, modest, reserved, gracious, mild-mannered and understated” who grew his company to outpace its rivals. We don’t need giant personalities to transform companies, grow a business or lead a successful team. We need leaders who build the institutions or teams they run, not their own egos.
Many introverts lose focus when interacting with people too often and need to carve out time for thinking and recharging. Many are more interested in gathering information than asserting their opinion or dominating conversation. For this reason, introverted leaders are often admired; when you do speak, people listen. And this creates a natural authority. It’s important to speak up when you are the expert in the room and others are counting on you. At Dittoe PR, we are often the only PR experts in the room and our clients count on us to bring our perspective and provide our expert insights. As an introvert, harness your natural curiosity and authority by asking thoughtful questions and sharing your knowledge with confidence.
A humble, introverted leader is one who will support their employees’ or teammates’ efforts to take initiative. This can be done by giving them input in key decisions and implementing ideas that make sense, while making it clear that you have the final authority. Introverts are often less concerned with getting credit or even being in charge, but assigning work to those who can perform it best. Sometimes, as an introvert in a leadership role, this can mean delegating some of your most interesting or important tasks — work that other leaders would keep for themselves.
There are countless other strengths and unique qualities that introverts bring to the workplace and our lives. By reading “Quiet,” I grew in my confidence as an introvert and found a new sense of entitlement to be myself, even in the workplace. If you’re curious about exploring your personality in a deeper way or understanding more about the personality of many of your friends, family and colleagues, I highly recommend diving in.
Are you an introvert who’s interested in media interviews for your company? Don’t worry, Dittoe PR can help prepare you for any interview. Explore our media training services.