Extroverts are often rewarded over introverts with many of the best opportunities in business, especially when it comes to hiring and job promotions to leadership roles. Often charismatic and outgoing, extroverts naturally outshine introverts in the workplace, but that doesn’t mean that they are always the best employees or the best leaders.
Businesses are doing themselves a tremendous disservice if they are overlooking introverts for key roles, management positions or as new hires, considering them to “not be a good culture fit” for a company that’s lively and boisterous. By passing over introverts for promotions and key strategic roles, you could be missing out on several extremely valuable assets that make these individuals exceptional employees, even if they don’t have a big personality that initially stands out among the crowd. In fact, a number of the world’s leading CEOs are considered introverts, including Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and Guy Kawasaki. And, new research from the University of Chicago, Harvard and Stanford shows that companies run by introverted CEOs outperform their peers, while those led by extroverted CEOs operate with a 2% lower return on assets.
What is it that makes an introvert so valuable as leaders?
1. Introverts are typically great listeners. While extroverts tend to talk more and listen less, introverts are often much better listeners by virtue of their quiet personalities. This ability to listen to — and really hear — what peers, stakeholders, customers and others have to say, rather than just waiting for the next opportunity to speak, can enable introverts to truly understand the needs, desires and motivations of these critical audiences. This enables the business to respond more accurately and thoroughly to those concerns, and serve the audience more successfully.
2. Introverts tend to be introspective and analytical. Extroverts derive energy from being around other people, interacting and socializing, while introverts often spend more time in solitude thinking, digesting and analyzing new information. This allows them to develop a much deeper understanding of problems or challenges and devote more creative energy toward solving them. Introverts can uncover insights that extroverts may never see because they’re more focused on introspection and analysis, rather than interacting with others.
3. Introverts develop deeper relationships. While an extrovert might have a natural gift for being able to quickly “work a room,” introverts often develop deeper and more meaningful relationships with colleagues and important business contacts. Rather than lots of acquaintances, introverts have fewer, but closer, colleagues and trusted compadres. This ability to build deeper connections, beyond a superficial acquaintance level, can be extremely valuable in forging relationships with teammates and even customers.
All three of these attributes are incredibly powerful qualities that make an outstanding employee, one who is able to think creatively, focus on the needs of the audience or end customer and drive innovation. And, they also make for outstanding management material. Having leaders that take the time to listen, understand and build strong relationships is critical for not only satisfying customers’ needs, but employees’ needs as well.
But, while introversion does bring tremendous value to the organization, it can be sometimes be easy to overlook the impact and performance of introverts. Even worse, it’s difficult to identify their management potential. Extroverts are typically easy: they’re more vocal, visible and sociable, and tend to promote themselves and their work. This can make it seem as though they take more action, contribute more and that their actions are more impactful and memorable, whereas introverts are less likely to brag about their accomplishments, so they’re often overlooked for promotions or key projects.
That’s why it’s critical for managers to understand their employees’ personalities and provide opportunities for growth whether they tend to fall on the extrovert or introvert end of the spectrum. This can help leadership be more alert to spot achievements among introverts, as well as properly recognize and reward all employees for their contributions. For example, where an extrovert might love basking in the limelight of a public recognition for his or her achievements, an introvert might prefer to be praised privately. Knowing this allows leadership to deliver the right kind of recognition for each individual, to maintain engagement and motivation.
Gauging the impact of introverts might be tougher, but with the right tools and approach, it’s possible to measure and nurture performance for both personality types and let employees at both ends of the spectrum (and in between) achieve their best performance. Having a diverse mix of introverted and extroverted employees makes for a highly successful team, but ensuring the achievements and accomplishments of one don’t overshadow the other is critical for maintaining engagement and innovation across the board.
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