Introverted Leaders

watch-icon July 12, 2021

Introverted Leaders

The terms introverted and extroverted have been around for many years. Most people have heard those terms before. Carl Jung coined these terms many, many years ago. But, unfortunately, people still associate those terms with confidence and ability. Now, yes, sometimes, an extroverted person is more confident than an introverted person. Sometimes the introverted person is shy. But introverted and extroverted refers more to where they get their energy.

An extroverted person derives energy from people and associations with people. So, they will go to a party, have great conversations and feel energized by the end of that party. An introverted person will go to a party, have great conversations and feel tired by the end of that party. The introverted person will then need to spend time by themselves to recharge their batteries. The extroverted person spending time by themselves lowers their battery. When we think about the terms extrovert and introvert regarding leadership, there is no correlation between capability for leadership and extraversion or introversion. There is, however, a correlation between extraversion and being hired for leadership positions. This may be that extroverts are more likely to think quickly on their feet and make decisions quickly. It may also be that the people hiring are more likely to hire someone who has the appearance of a go-getter. It’s a mystery why this happens. But, we could surmise why it happens.

We need to think about what makes a great leader and how to expand our understanding of this. We often look at famous leaders and think about the charismatic leader that takes us on a journey towards their vision. Some great leaders are extroverted. Many great leaders are introverted.

Take Oprah Winfrey, for example. Oprah is an introvert. She spoke on the biggest stages in the world and hosted the Oprah Winfrey Show for 25 years. She’s talked and interviewed every big name you can think about in the world. She’s stood in front of hundreds and thousands of people and leads them through conversations about wellness, safety and diversity. She’s a person who many people, if they look at extraversion as confidence, would say that Oprah Winfrey is an extrovert. However, Oprah requires her time alone to recharge. She has her boundaries around when she will socialize, work, and rest. She’s an excellent example of an introverted leader who has confidence, can think quickly on their feet, and engages people in what they are saying.

Another well-known introvert is Elon Musk. Elon is not a traditional leader in that his public speaking is not charismatic; if anything, it is disjointed. He comes across as shy and technical. But there’s no denying what Elon Musk has done for the world. He’s another great example of an introverted leader that is confident and able to set a vision and inspire people to move towards that vision.

If you think about the competency set for a leader, the number one thing that a leader does is mobilize people towards a vision. Many other things sit around that. But that’s the key critical competency for leadership, mobilizing people towards achieving a vision. You don’t need to be extroverted to be able to do that. However, extroverts gain energy from that mobilization. Introverts may lose energy because of it. Needing to recharge their batteries somewhere else. That doesn’t make them bad leaders. That makes them an introverted person who requires an energy recharge. Just like the extroverted person, the extroverted leader that you place in a cubicle, by themselves, without interaction with other people will be drained and need to recharge their battery. You’ll see these kinds of leaders walking the floor because they need the connection with people to recharge their batteries. Walking the floor is a great leadership technique. It will recharge the extroverted leader’s battery while it will drain the introverted leader’s battery. So really, what I’m saying here is it’s always about balance.

Introverted leaders will recharge by being quiet in their own space. They’ll recharge by reading or being by themselves. They’ll get drained by the activities associated with interaction with people. Opposing that the extrovert will get energized by the interactions with people will be drained by the times they have to spend in their office, writing reports, answering emails and doing the mundane stuff that leaders and managers also have to do.

Think about this the next time you’re considering what makes a great leader. Are you confusing where people get their energy from, as opposed to whether they are confident and competent in their job? Both introverts and extroverts make great leaders.

Michelle Holland