We live in a world that increasingly feels like it is set up for extroverts, especially in business where extroverted leaders seem to dominate the speaking spaces.

There is also this ever-enduring myth that you are either introverted or extroverted. While it is easy to assume that 50% of people must be extroverted and 50% introverted, research has shown that between 25-40% of the world’s population claims to be introverted.

This also doesn’t mean that 60-75% of the population is extroverted. Many people actually exist somewhere in the middle – known as ambiverts. Think of it like a spectrum; some people will naturally be a little introverted, but then they could meet someone who is even more so.

Of course, this means that there will be some people who are more introverted than others. But does this mean that only extroverts can or should be leaders?

No! Successful leaders can be introverted or extroverted; they will just have different strengths and abilities to bring to the table. Let’s take a closer look at introverts and the power that they can bring to leadership.

Introvert, Extrovert, Ambivert: What’s the difference?

As mentioned above, we shouldn’t think of introvertism and extrovertism as being separate binaries, but as being part of the same spectrum. The gap in between is ambivertism, a blend of both.

The terms were coined as part of Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung’s attempts to understand the human personality. His research and exploration of these two personality traits run much deeper than we could ever explore in this article, but it is worth noting that not even Jung himself believed that both should be treated separately. He said:

“There is no such thing as a pure extrovert or a pure introvert. Such a man would be in the lunatic asylum.”

So, what are some of the traits that we can use to describe each personality type? Though this article is focused more on the qualities that introverts display, knowing the difference between all three can help us understand how to interpret their respective behaviours.

What is an introvert?

Introverts tend to be more reserved and thoughtful. They internalise a lot of thought processes and emotions and may prefer one-to-one interactions over large group activities. They also tend to be happier on their own.

What is an extrovert?

Extroverts tend to be sociable and assertive, and they are happy to join in on large-scale events. They tend not to feel drained after taking part in a social event and may feel isolated without regular interactions.

What is an ambivert?

Ambiverts exist somewhere in the middle. They may display traits from both sides – valuing alone time but also enjoying social interactions – and they might be highly adaptable given the situation they find themselves in.

What might an introverted leader look like?

Now that we have established what some of the traits of an introvert might look like, how do we see them reflected in a leadership role?

Introverted leaders often embody the more reserved nature we typically expect from more introverted personality types. They will often think before they speak, and they know how to actively listen and pay attention to details. This, in turn, can make them very good at building a rapport with employees and clients even if they do not seem to be the most sociable at first.

It may seem like an introverted leader is more reserved and less prone to spontaneity than an extroverted one, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t capable of rallying workers and making critical decisions when necessary. They just approach the concept of leadership from a completely different angle.

What does an introverted leader need?

Introverted leaders need their work environments to reflect their needs and preferences for completing tasks. Some simple accommodations can benefit both introverted leaders and any other introverts who might be in their teams.

Time to think and reflect

Introverts tend to need a little space to internalise things and think through a problem on their own. Though they can be quite creative thinkers, it can take some time for them to reach a conclusion that they are happy to voice.

What’s more, a little reflection time will give everyone the chance to consider whether or not the right path is the one being taken.

Careful communications

Though introverts tend to have very strong listening skills, space needs to be given to ensure that they are communicating in precisely the right way.

More often than not, written communication can be the preference of an introverted leader. Composing an email or message to a team gives that much-needed space for thought and reflection. They will be able to include all necessary and relevant information in one go and send it on when they are fully satisfied.

An extrovert might make a suggestion and refine it as they go, while an introvert will prefer to fully refine a concept before they present it.

Time to recharge

Introverts always need time to recharge and relax, especially after high-intensity moments that require a lot from them. While extroverted leaders may be able to bounce from meeting to meeting or even just jump straight back into work without a break, introverts should be aware of how their mood might deteriorate without adequate time to recharge.

Ensuring that they take a break, even if it is just a chance to make a cup of tea or coffee and stretch their legs, can make a world of difference.

Why introverted leaders are a benefit to businesses

It can be easy to see why extroverted leaders might be preferred in business since they fit the loud and confident leadership archetype that we tend to expect. Yet, there is still much to celebrate in how introverted leaders tend to go about things. In truth, an introverted leader can still produce a multitude of successes. Here are some invaluable qualities introverted leaders can bring to the table and are of benefit to a business.

1. Active listening

Firstly, introverts tend to have better listening skills than extroverts. They are more inclined to actively listen to what is being discussed. Since they then internalise and process points that have been made, they will be able to repeat it back and offer insights without the need for repetition. This is also more likely to be inherent behaviour for them, unlike extroverts who might recognise active listening as something to improve upon.

Also read: Best Practices for Change Leaders

2. Deeper relationships

We tend to think of extroverts as being the ones who are more amicable and more likely to fit into any social situation they find themselves in. However, some extroverts just float from one conversation to the next, without ever stopping to focus on their conversation partner. This can leave some of their interactions feeling a little empty.

Though introverts might form fewer personal connections, they tend to foster deeper relationships when they do. This often means that they can build stronger bonds within a team, strengthening the unit as a whole and creating a network of support that employees can lean on during times of stress and uncertainty.

3. Promotion of inclusivity

Introverts are used to others talking over them, and they know that they are never going to be the loudest person in the room. Due to this, when they are placed in a position of leadership, they often go the extra mile to ensure that everyone has a chance to submit ideas and contribute to a solution.

In doing so, they automatically promote and encourage inclusivity within their teams. Everyone is given the chance to step into the limelight and offer their thoughts. Such actions will naturally bring the mixing of people’s experiences and perspectives, allowing the company to foster more diverse opinions in a very natural and positive way.

3. True confidence

Though extroverted individuals are often thought of as being the confident ones, there is no denying that many introverts often have confidence in them. One trait often associated with the best leaders is confidence, and it can be seen in both extroverted and introverted leaders.

Many mistake confidence in introverts as being an act and an attempt to emulate more extroverted qualities. While it is true to some extent that some feel the need to put on something of an act, many other introverts feel like they gain a natural, true confidence they can fall back on during discussions. Since much of their thought is internalised, when they do choose to voice something, they can be certain of their convictions.

4. Targeted direction

Since introverts can be quite analytical and methodical, they, as a result, can often provide great direction that is specifically targeted towards a certain goal. When moderating discussions, they can also bring in their active listening skills to ensure that thinking and ideation remain on track and on topic.

Famous introverts that made great leaders

When we think of famous speakers and celebrities, we often make the mistake of thinking that they need to be eloquent and extroverted personalities in order to shine. However, this could not be further from the truth. Many introverts can appear perfectly happy in a leadership position, and can confidently handle public speaking and other tasks that might put them into the centre of attention.

Famous introverts who have also gone on to showcase brilliant leadership skills include:

  • Barack Obama
  • Eleanor Roosevelt
  • Warren Buffett
  • Michael Jordan
  • Mark Zuckerberg

When we consider someone like Barack Obama, we may not necessarily believe that he is an introvert, as he exudes quiet confidence and is known to be a confident public speaker. Yet he is also often described as being aloof and reserved, two traits that definitely ring true for introverts.

Develop your unique introverted leadership style

As a leader who is an introvert, it is crucial that you put the time in to develop your own unique style of leadership. Though leaders always need to be prepared to step up, make decisions, and steer the company forward, introverts should not be expected to do so in the same way an extrovert does.

The journey to develop a unique introverted leadership style can be challenging, making it crucial that any leadership development opportunities for introverts should focus on leveraging the strengths they already possess rather than moulding them into someone they are not.

ChangingPoint’s Leadership and Executive Coaching is tailored to the individual needs of each participant, allowing introverts to discover the leadership styles that benefit them the most and unlock the skills they need to flourish in their roles.

Let’s end with another quote from Susan Cain, since – as one herself – she really does understand introverts so beautifully:

“So stay true to your own nature. If you like to do things in a slow and steady way, don’t let others make you feel as if you have to race. If you enjoy depth, don’t force yourself to seek breadth. If you prefer single-tasking to multi-tasking, stick to your guns. Being relatively unmoved by rewards gives you the incalculable power to go your own way.”

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Written by Jayne Ruff

Jayne Ruff, Occupational Psychologist & Managing Director at ChangingPoint. To find out more about how ChangingPoint can help you align minds to transform your business, get in touch.

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