People tend to imagine “leaders” as people who put themselves out there, who have large networks, and who crave the spotlight and attention. Extroverts, in other words.
Extroversion isn’t a prerequisite for leadership.
But extroversion is not a requirement for being an outstanding leader. Former Harvard Law School Dean Martha Minow is an example of an honored and influential leader who is an introvert, as is Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple. Mia Hamm may have been celebrated for her wins on the soccer pitch, but since retirement, she has done extensive work quietly drawing attention to the national bone marrow registry. Warren Buffett once enrolled in a Dale Carnegie seminar because he didn’t feel like he had a “business persona,” but introversion certainly didn’t stop him from succeeding.
The fact is, introverts can be and are exceptionally good leaders.
Introverts Bring Many Strengths to the Table
Introverts tend to be natural observers and analysts as well as good listeners. They’re often focused and persistent, and when they speak, they do so deliberately and with purpose. Introverts may not have the wide-ranging networks of extroverts, but they tend to have fewer, stronger relationships. In industries that require deep analysis and problem-solving, introverts can be well-suited to leadership roles.
The main difference between introverts and extroverts is where they draw their energy. Extroverts tend to recharge from being around people and interacting, while introverts recharge through solitude. Neither is better than the other, and each has certain advantages and disadvantages.
Skills That Many Introverts Should Deliberately Practice
There may have been a time when an introverted leader could shut themselves away and work undisturbed, but those days are over. We live in an always-connected world, and in a world where communication and collaboration are more important than ever to business success. To thrive in this environment, introverts may need to work deliberately on certain qualities.
Deliberate planning and preparation can help introverts be more comfortable in meetings, presentations, and other business interactions.
Many introverts have to deliberately push themselves out of their comfort zone until it becomes second nature. They often do better in meetings when they devise a game plan in advance and prepare carefully rather than just “winging it.” And in today’s business world, introverts must take charge and help shape others’ perceptions of them, lest an inaccurate or incomplete picture develop of them.
Bottom Line: The Right Leader Is Right for the Organization
The right leader for a team, department, or organization may be an introvert or an extrovert. What matters is their skills and abilities, and their “fit” with the organizational culture. Whether they require socializing or solitude to recharge and regroup rarely matters as long as they have sufficient leadership development training.
Perhaps we think of leaders as being extroverts because extroverted leaders enjoy the spotlight, so we naturally become more familiar with them. But rest assured that there are plenty of world-class leaders who would classify themselves as introverts. They may not have fame, but they have the skills and passion to get the job done with excellence.
One of the keys to preparing promising introverts for leadership positions is providing them with high-quality leadership development programs. Another is often leadership coaching. Leadership coaching can be a powerful experience for the introverted leader because it offers a strong one-to-one connection as well as a view of how others perceive them.
My job as a leadership coach when working with introverts is not to somehow turn them into extroverts so they can command more attention. Rather, it is to help them understand their strengths, identify skills gaps, and execute a plan to both improve strengths and bridge gaps. None of those processes requires that a participant be extroverted.
Terms like introvert and extrovert may be applied to leaders, but neither has any bearing on how capable they are of doing the job. Any leadership coach will tell you that it is a combination of inborn qualities, acquired skills, passion, and drive for excellence that lead to great leadership. If you’re interested in learning more about what it takes to develop true leadership excellence, I encourage you to check out my books, including my latest one, The Intelligent Leader.