Thu • Apr 4th, 2013 • by Tom Nees • Comments 5
a case for introversion
Sir Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, Charles Schultz, Steven Spielberg, J.K. Rowling, Bill Gates and President Obama have something in common. According to Susan Cain, author of “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” they all have characteristics associated with introversion, a personality trait popularized by psychologist Carl Jung in the 1920’s.
In her Ted Talks presentation, “The Power of Introverts, Cain, a former corporate attorney, reveals her struggle to overcome fear of public speaking, a common anxiety of introverts. It is never easy for her.
She contends that some of our best leaders were and are introverts, and that introversion describes a cluster of positive personality traits that all leaders would do well to nurture.
She points to the research by Jim Collins in “Good to Great.” “Collins,” she writes, “didn’t set out to make a point of quiet leadership.” He just wanted to find out why some companies outperform their competition.
The “unassuming” personalities of their CEO’s stood out for Collins. These leaders, he noted, were described by those closest to them as “quiet, humble, modest, reserved, shy, gracious, mild-mannered, self-effacing, understated,” – traits often associated with introversion.
In her NY Times article, “Must Great Leaders Be Gregarious?” Cain identifies the problem – “culturally,” she writes, “we tend to associate leadership with extroversion.” Since an extrovert leader is the accepted norm, some introvert leaders try to explain if not apologize for their quiet, reflective style. “In the West” she claims, “we subscribe to the Extrovert Ideal.”
After her address to a group at the U.S. Military Academy, a cadet responded, “I think we tend to get it backwards,” he said. “We become so focused on becoming leaders that we see that development as an end in itself and therefore become less eager to truly get behind something and have a purposive direction in which to lead.”
On the extrovert/introvert continuum no one is at either extreme. While we are all a mixture, most of us are aware of our tendencies since the concept is so embedded in our culture. It seems that most people have taken or know about the Meyers-Briggs self-assessment developed from Jung’s theories, or some version of it like Keirsey that type us as introverts or extroverts among other things.
While introverts need to explain, if not defend themselves, extroverts seldom do that. I don’t remember ever hearing a leader claiming to be an extrovert. It is the standard that goes without saying – an up-front person, good at public speaking, comfortable in, if not energized by crowds, good at schmoozing, out-going with strangers, effective in leading and participating in groups and teams, busy, multi-tasking. As Cain points out, these behaviors can become too much of a good thing.
While neither personality type necessarily determines effective leadership, both introverts and extroverts, Cain believes, need to balance, if not change their behavior to avoid pitfalls.
She encourages introvert leaders master the art of public speaking, engage in conversation when they would rather remain silent, and socialize when they would rather be alone.
Extroverts need to throttle back their compulsive need to be heard, thinking out loud, dominating conversations, and to balance their action with reflection.
Two of my friends, very effective clergy leaders in their own right, recently confided to me that they are introverts. They seemed almost relieved to recognize it and get it out. And yet I perceive that they are not sure that their reflective, cautious, sometimes solitary style is either understood or appreciated by their followers.
They are not alone. According to Cain, a third to half of the population including many of our best leaders are introverts – often undervalued.
Even when silent, reflective and unplugged, they have a voice.