Introverted traits are undervalued in the business world

August 26, 2015

In “Do I put off a human vibe to you?” (January 2014) we wrote that while the “extrovert ideal” may capture the public imagination, our experience with quiet and cerebral entrepreneurs has demonstrated that one doesn’t have to be an extroverted leader in order to run a successful high-growth company.

dilbert-introvertsWriting in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, Elizabeth Bernstein makes the same argument, in longer form, citing unique skills that introverts offer:

– a propensity for balanced and critical thinking
– a knack for quietly empowering others and less interest in personal glory
– the ability to focus for long periods and to use solitude to think originally and create something out of nothing
– a more focused mindset to their leadership style
– better at dealing with setbacks (because they need less external validation)
– more realistic when listening to feedback or analyzing information (because they do less public promotion of themselves)

Bernstein then argues that the different styles work under different circumstances. From “Why Introverts Make Great Entrepreneurs“:

An introvert’s desire to put the spotlight on others and really listen—and to model this skill for others—will be a huge advantage to his or her company, in sales, management, partnering and just about any other aspect of the business, Ms. Buelow says. “The best businesspeople aren’t necessarily the best talkers, but the best listeners, the people who ask the right questions,” she says.

That was borne out in a study reported in the Harvard Business Review in December 2010. Adam Grant, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School , and his colleagues found that when employees were proactive, introverted leaders generated better performance and higher profits than extroverted leaders did.

Why? Extroverts are better at leading passive employees who need a lot of direction, says Dr. Helgoe. “But if you have a very creative, self-motivated staff, introverts are better at channeling that talent and staying out of the way—listening, taking in ideas, helping employees shine.”

This article from last month’s WSJ makes a similar point about “ambiverts,” those with both introverted and extroverted traits, neither dominant, who adapt their individual leadership styles to the situation:

[Ambiverts] have more balanced, or nuanced, personalities [and can] move between being social or being solitary, speaking up or listening carefully with greater ease than either extroverts or introverts. “It is like they’re bilingual,” saysDaniel Pink, a business book author and host of Crowd Control, a TV series on human behavior, who has studied ambiversion. “They have a wider range of skills and can connect with a wider range of people in the same way someone who speaks English and Spanish can.”

In practice we need each other.  The best teams typically will have some of both who play to each other’s strengths.  But it doesn’t have to be the extrovert in the entrepreneur- CEO’s chair.  Here’s how Bernstein closes her piece:

Of course, introverts do have some qualities that aren’t that well-suited for entrepreneurship: They can be too internally focused and sometimes shun networking. Extroverts are natural networkers and certainly know how to rally the troops.

But it’s time to recognize that introvert traits have long been undervalued in the business world—and it may be time for extroverts to try and be more like introverts.

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