About 30-35% of all people in our society are more introvert than extrovert. For as long as I can remember, I've been the introvert. At school, I was always the quiet kid - sitting towards the front of the classroom - not having too many friends. Our schools and society prefer extroverts and extroversion is stimulated and often demanded. But, introverts can be as effective leaders as extroverts.

Feather on the lake.
Photo by Andraz Lazic / Unsplash

Still, to this day - I am the introvert. Leadership means having to interact with other people all day long. In networking situations, parties and other situations where I would meet new people, to this day I feel uncomfortable. I need to tell myself to go out and meet new people. Over the years, I've learned how to deal with such situations and I will attend such events if I deem them useful. The people I meet will probably not be able to tell it doesn't come natural, but it takes quite a bit of my energy. Of course, I see the benefits of such situations, so I consciously decide to spend that energy.  

Historical perspectives

Extroversion and Introversion are personality traits introduced by Carl Jung (1875 - 1961) where he states extroverts direct their energy outwards (towards other people) where introverts direct their energy inwards (towards themselves). Jung also said "There is no such thing as a pure introvert or extrovert. Such a person would be in the lunatic asylum." Every person instead is somewhere in between on the introversion-extroversion scale. Research has shown time after time that personality traits such as introversion and extroversion are about 40 to 50 percent inheritable. About 30-35 percent or about one third of our society has a more introverted personality.

Susan Caine's Quiet

In a senior leadership training not too long ago, my introversion surfaced and was quite apparent. After our training, one of my fellow participants recommended the book by Susan Caine (2012) Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, which I gratefully read. The book goes into depth on our current society's views (mostly in the United States) on introversion, scientific research and her own struggles with introversion.

Society tends to favor the charismatic, outgoing and energetic leadership type, despite the fact that history has shown that introverts can be as successful leaders. Recent examples of highly successful introvert leaders are Barack Obama, Steven Spielberg, Warren Buffett, Al Gore as well as recent tech CEO's such as Bill Gates (Microsoft), Larry Page (Google), Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook) and Elon Musk (Tesla, SpaceX).

Recognize where you are

So, how does this affect leadership and what did I learn? First of all, it's important to recognize your own inclination. If you are an introvert leader, you're probably more comfortable spending your time working in solitude. Figure out where it makes sense to spend your energy and spend it wisely. To me, I know I'm a lot more effective in 1-on-1 conversations than in leading group meetings - so I'll prefer the former to lead my team and have fewer team meetings. Is that a bad thing? I don't believe so - it's what makes me most effective as a leader. Ask yourself: what makes you effective?

As for your team

As a leader, it's also important to recognize where your team, co-workers, manager and key stakeholders are on the introversion-extroversion scale. Introverts are as smart as extroverts, but do not always speak up. If you are in a group meeting with an introvert - ask them specifically for their opinion. They will usually have thought about all that was said during the meeting already and have formed their own opinion which may surprise you.

There's a lot more that can be said about introversion, introversion in groups and in relation to leadership - and I can highly recommend Susan Caine's book as a good starting point!