What do Charles Darwin, Candice Bergen and Michael Jordan have in common? They’re all said to be introverts.
So are Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and Mark Zuckerberg. When we think about the personality traits that effective leaders need, we typically think of people who are charismatic, dominant, and outgoing. We think of extroverts. Especially in the U.S.
A study by researchers at Stanford suggests that Western cultures value excitement, and that these values carry over into the behavior of leaders in those countries. Author and TED Talk contributor Susan Cain agrees. In her book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, she writes,
“The U.S. has become a nation of extroverts. The extrovert ideal really came to play at the turn of the 20th century when we had the rise of big business. We moved from what cultural historians call a culture of character to a culture of personality. During the culture of character, what was important was the good deeds that you performed when nobody was looking. Abraham Lincoln is the embodiment of the culture of character, and people celebrated him back then for being a man who did not offend by superiority. But at the turn of the century, when we moved into this culture of personality, suddenly what was admired was to be magnetic and charismatic.”
At a time when our headlines are full of messages from brash, assertive, outspoken leaders who love their own press, it may be time to consider the virtues of their quiet counterparts. Here are four ways introverts can turn their love of solitude and keen observational skills into effective leadership skills:
1. Listen first, talk second. Extroverts talk first and think later, because they express themselves more easily verbally. Yet according to Susan Cain, “There’s zero correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas.” Rather than rely on witty repartee, 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 construct the best reply.
2. Leverage your quiet nature. Remember the meetings where everyone was clamoring to be heard, until Bill ― who never said a peep ― chimed in? Then what happened? Everyone turned around to look in awe at how Bill owned the moment by speaking calmly and deliberately. He was tapping into the wisdom of Abraham Lincoln who said, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”
3. Soak up the ‘me’ time. Introverts spend a lot of time in their own heads. And they need this time. It’s how they turn information into knowledge, and knowledge into insight. So set aside ‘me’ time every day. Find a quiet spot to sit down and reflect. Even if it’s 15 minutes. Let the thoughts flow through your head and jot down any new ideas that percolate.
4. Let your fingers do the talking. Introverts tend not to think out loud. Speaking extemporaneously is not their strong suit. Take advantage of opportunities to prepare your thoughts in writing. You’ll have time to choose compelling and persuasive language that you can refer to when you’re speaking and can leave with others to make sure your key points stick.
In a world where being social and outgoing are highly prized, it can be difficult to be an introvert. But introverts bring extraordinary gifts to the leadership table that should be celebrated and encouraged.