Power in the Workplace: The Introvert

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Organizations have recently begun to take notice of the difference between introverts and extroverts, the words used to describe basic personality traits. The most common description for introverts is quiet and private, while extroverts are known as talkative and outgoing.

These distinctions have created a new diversity category in Human Resources departments.

Apparently, this initiative sprang out of a need to include and listen to the quieter employees, the team members who have historically kept to themselves and been reluctant to speak up. Recent data and research have shown that this inclusivity movement for introverts improves the bottom line and is simply good business practice.

Taking an example from a real-world scenario, look no further than the matchup of the late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs and his co-founder and partner Steve Wozniak. Most people are familiar with the extroverted Jobs and how he addressed the masses in large auditoriums, wearing dark clothing and winning over the world with his latest product announcements. But what the audience didn’t see on stage was the special team dynamic between Jobs and Wozniak, an introvert, but also extremely important to the duo’s success. Wozniak had this to say about working with others, as he was so often found laboring away alone: “I don’t believe anything really revolutionary has ever been invented by committee. Not on a committee. Not on a team.”

Yet there is hardly anything more revolutionary than Apple products. Jobs and Wozniak complemented each other, and research shows that introverts should keep doing what they do naturally, because they do indeed complement extroverts.

There have been many famous introverts throughout history, including Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin, who were more concerned with substance than bravado. But society has always been drawn to the outspoken individuals. Think Muhammad Ali, the boxer, or Boris Yeltsin, president of the Russian republic.

Experts agree that both extroverts and introverts need level playing fields within organizations. Most recognize the traits of introverts—the silent types, seemingly reflective, preferring to work alone. But those qualities can prove to be tremendous leadership qualities if recognized and leveraged by astute managers. Paying attention to personality characteristics can result in both happier employees and gains in productivity.

Interestingly, more than half of individuals in the country’s workforce identify as an introvert. Furthermore, over 60 percent of workers think their company doesn’t utilize the introverted employee’s talents. At the same time, a poll conducted by USA Today showed that 65 percent of executives believed introversion was a barrier to good and effective leadership.

Yet the same research showed that about 40 percent of leaders are actually introverts! This is explained that they are just better at adapting themselves to situations, citing such luminaries as Charles Schwab and Bill Gates.

It’s safe to say that certain traits define the power of an introvert. Introverts are more cautious. Instead of jumping into an idea like an extrovert usually does, they are more likely to question if it is a good idea, have deep conversations, and take the time to research and weigh the risk. They have deeper focus for a longer time on projects, while extroverts get distracted easily.

Introverts tend to listen and think, instead of talking all the time. They prefer to read and learn, internalize and, quite naturally, they are reluctant to speak up in meetings; they share best when prompted. Everyone can remember the moment when an introvert finally spoke up and it was brilliant, deliberate and meaningful.

Introverts don’t give up as easily as extroverts. If a problem can’t be solved with the information at hand, they will dig deeper and persist. Even the genius introvert Albert Einstein said, “It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s that I stay with problems longer.” In these cases, working alone is an introvert’s tool to success. Plus, introverts like working in quiet spaces as opposed to open spaces. Look no further than Albert Einstein’s famous photograph of his workspace, where it appears he is completely surrounded by every idea he ever had. He often said, “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?”

For a good demonstration of the way introverts make good leaders, look no further than the introverted leader who is more likely to carefully listen to and process her team’s recommendations, instead of an extroverted leader who is too busy talking and not listening to his team. The fact that a manager is assertive and dominant doesn’t always relate to an improved bottom line.

More and more research shows that an introverted style is key to success as a leader—the person who is quiet, shy and calm, thereby able to empower their employees. ■

Sources: huffingtonpost.com, myersbriggs.org and psychologytoday.com.