13 March 2023
By Péter Kakucska
Leadership is an essential component of success in any organisation. Many people believe that extraverted individuals make the best leader due to their unbridled charisma and confident energy. Society has long celebrated extraverts and marvelled at their high visibility, prominence and presence. Consider some of these famous extraverts: Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Madonna, Muhammad Ali, Oprah Winfrey and Steve Jobs.
Extraverts are communication experts and know how to motivate others. The business world lapped them up in the 80s and 90s, as consumerism demanded the inspirational, visionary and superior oratory skills extravert leaders brought with them. Their ability to easily relate to people was advantageous as they had access to large networks of potential clients. Their mere presence as outgoing collaborators invigorated around others and energised would provide free PR as well. In the office, they were assertive, high-energy, outgoing, bold, talkative and dominant. It seemed introverts did not stand a chance in the corporate pecking order.
While extraverted leaders may have charisma and energy, they often lack the essential qualities of effective leadership. Being extraverted does not necessarily equate to effective leadership, in some cases the impact of extraversion is devastating. Let us now consider past extraverts such as Muammar Gaddafi, Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini and Joseph Stalin are notoriously known for their personality of cults and the suffering they have inflicted in the past. Fast forward to today and we currently have extraverts such as Donald Trump, Kim Jong-un, Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping dominating global political conversations and creating a period in our modern history marred by global instability, geo-political conflicts and international tension.
“The biggest challenge of being an extravert is the desire to be liked, loved, and appreciated by everyone around us.” – Vishwas Chavan, Indian author, speaker, and social entrepreneur.
Extraverts have now been blamed for serious global disasters, such as the socio-economic crisis in 2008 to exacerbating climate change. Extraverts have become a serious liability with their need for validation as their downfall. This is not only limited to political personas, but the phenomenon is also evident in the workplace.
In the workplace, consider the following scenario: a charismatic and outgoing leader takes charge of a team of highly skilled professionals. They organise countless meetings and brainstorming sessions with them as the centre of attention which provides them with the energy and validation they need, from their team members. Their gregarious personality, loud, assertive über-confidence and tendency to dominate conversations rub the team up the wrong way as the extravert leaders often end up prioritising their own opinions and ideas over those of others.
Coupled with the lack of boundaries and poor time management the extravert has, team members become exhausted and annoyed, sick of cheerleading their boss. Additionally, extraverted leaders struggle with active listening, leading to misunderstandings and miscommunication among team members. As a result, team morale suffers, which stifles team creativity and innovation, leading to a lack of or poor contributions from their team members thus leading to turnover and decreased productivity.
Extroverts crave large amounts of stimulation and suffer from a terrible lack of motivation and self-esteem if alone. Worse is that as extraverted leaders command attention, they are more likely to be threatened by suggestions from their own team. Extraverts are also easily attracted to recognition rewards and their competitive nature and need for validation can lead them to overlook risks, cut corners and cause collateral damage. Frustrated, extraverted leaders can be prone to impulsive decision-making which increases risk-taking that may ultimately harm the organisation. Extraverts are more risk averse and combined with their high level of self-confidence, easy distractibility and inspirational communication skills in their large networks, these thrill seekers can cause devastating large-scale damage. In fact, extraverts have been blamed for the global financial crisis of 2008 and 2009. It is also no surprise that extraverts are more often hospitalised than introverts and also have more affairs, frequently change partners and suffer marital disasters.
“Sorry losers and haters, but my I.Q. is one of the highest – and you all know it! Please don’t feel so stupid or insecure, it’s not your fault.” – Donald Trump
In recent years, people started searching for new leadership styles that were more grounded and less aggressive. They began to notice the success introverted leaders have been quietly achieving success in various fields and began to recognise the unique qualities and strengths introverted leaders bring to the table.
Adam Grant, an organisational psychologist, has written about the strengths introverted leaders bring to the workplace:
“Introverted leaders often deliver better outcomes than extraverted leaders do because they’re more likely to let proactive employees run with their ideas, whereas extraverts can, quite unwittingly, get in the way.” – Adam Grant
Introverted leaders often possess qualities that set them apart from their outgoing counterparts and there is growing evidence to suggest that introverted leaders are equally, if not more, effective than their extraverted counterparts when it comes to leadership. Behavioural scientists have together with financial modelling experts come to the conclusion that in the business world, introverted CEOs are the business leaders of the future citing that introversion can be a powerful asset when it comes to leadership. Now consider these famous introverts to our last list; Angela Merkel, Bill Gates, Hillary Clinton, Michael Jackson, Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa.
Susan Cain, the author of “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” and co-founder of Quiet Revolution, has examined what makes introverted leaders excel. She explains that introverted leaders are excellent listeners, reflective and thoughtful decision-makers, focused and disciplined, humble and modest, and create a calm and stable work environment. We can learn a lot from these qualities and apply them to our own leadership styles.
“Extraverts are more likely to take a quick-and-dirty approach to problem-solving, trading accuracy for speed, making increasing numbers of mistakes as they go, and abandoning ship altogether when the problem seems too difficult or frustrating.” – Susan Cain
Let’s take a closer look at these traits and learn from some of the most successful introverted leaders in history, including some from the LGBT community.
Trait #1: Exceptional Listeners
Introverted leaders are known for their exceptional listening skills. As Cain states, “There’s zero correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas.” They take the time to really hear what others have to say, and they value the input of their team members. Introverted leaders tend to be better listeners and more receptive to suggestions.
This makes them excellent at identifying problems, fostering creativity and innovation and coming up with creative solutions, as they are able to gather diverse perspectives and ideas from those around them.
“Solitude is for me a fount of healing which makes my life worth living. Talking is often a torment for me, and I need many days of silence to recover from the futility of words.” – Carl Jung, Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who developed personality theory, including the concepts of introversion and extraversion in personality theory.
Notable introverted business leader, Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple. Cook has been openly gay for several years and is known for his quiet, thoughtful and receptive leadership style. He is known for his ability to actively listen to team members and colleagues and create a safe and inclusive work environment for employees. His leadership style emphasises collaboration and teamwork, which has helped Apple maintain its position as a leader in the technology industry.
Trait #2: Reflective Decision-Makers
Introverted leaders are often more introspective and reflective, tending to take the time to reflect and weigh all the facts before concluding. They prioritise accuracy and depth of understanding over speed and flashiness which means they are better equipped to analyse complex situations and make thoughtful decisions. They take the time to consider all the options and potential outcomes before making a decision, rather than jumping to conclusions or making snap judgments.
As Mahatma Gandhi, the renowned Indian leader, once said, “In a gentle way, you can shake the world.” Introverted leaders do not need to be forceful or loud to make an impact, their thoughtful approach can be just as powerful. Gandhi’s commitment to non-violent protest was a result of his deep reflection and belief in the power of peaceful resistance.
Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft is known for his reflective and thoughtful nature in decision-making, Nadella is known for his analytical and strategic approach to leadership, prioritising long-term goals over short-term gains. According to Nadella, “Empathy is key in building bridges between people.” His leadership style is characterised by collaboration and a willingness to consider diverse perspectives, this has created an environment where people feel heard and valued, which improves morale and fosters a sense of community and belonging. This introverted leader’s approach has allowed Microsoft to maintain its position as a leading technology company.
Trait #3: Focus and Discipline
Introverted leaders are often more focused and disciplined and are able to concentrate deeply on tasks and projects. As Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, once said, “I have been struck again and again by how important measurement is to improve the human condition.” This ability to concentrate deeply on tasks and projects leads to higher levels of productivity and better outcomes. This focus also enables them to be more detail-oriented, ensuring that nothing is overlooked or left to chance.
Anderson Cooper, openly gay American journalist and television personality and the host of CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360”, is known for his calm and level-headed approach to journalism, even in times of crisis, the midst of breaking news. Cooper is also applauded for his thorough and meticulous research and his analytical and strategic approach to journalism, prioritising factual accuracy and depth of understanding over sensationalism. According to Cooper, “I don’t have to be the loudest voice in the room to be heard.” Maintaining a stable and consistent approach to leadership, even in the face of rapidly changing circumstances is incredibly valuable.
Introverted leaders have a remarkable ability to remain disciplined, and to focus and hone in on the task at hand and see it through to completion, even in the face of distractions and chaos. Warren Buffett, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway is known for his ability to remain calm and level-headed in the face of adversity, focused on his long-term strategy and disciplined approach to investing has made him one of the richest people in the world even in times of market volatility. According to Buffett, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.” This commitment to maintaining a stable and consistent approach to leadership, even in the face of rapid change has paid off. Introverted leaders are able to concentrate deeply on tasks and projects, which leads to prosperity and robust results.
“Introverted leaders are more likely to focus on the needs of their team members and to create an environment where everyone can contribute.”
Trait #4: Humility and Modesty
Introverted leaders prioritise collaboration and teamwork over individual achievement, and they don’t feel the need to constantly be the centre of attention, and they are happy to give credit to their team members for their contributions. As Albert Einstein, the famous physicist, once said, “I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.” This humility fosters a sense of trust and respect between the leader and their team, which can lead to better collaboration and stronger relationships.
Understanding that progress is more important than politics or personal gain, is the humble and modest United States Senator from Wisconsin, Tammy Baldwin. She is an open lesbian and is known for her understated leadership style, which emphasises collaboration and compromises over individual achievement. According to Baldwin, “I believe in putting progress ahead of politics.” Her leadership style has helped her achieve bipartisan support for important legislation, and her focus on humility and modesty has earned her the respect of her colleagues and constituents.
“Introverted leaders are less likely to get caught up in the cult of personality, and they tend to be more humble and self-reflective.”
Trait #5: Calm and Stable
As John Wooden, a renowned basketball coach, once said, “Be quick, but don’t hurry.”, alluding to the fact that introverted leaders are able to make quick decisions without succumbing to panic or chaos. Introverted leaders are often excellent at creating a calm and stable environment. They are not easily rattled by stress or pressure, and they are able to remain level-headed, which can be particularly valuable during times of crisis or uncertainty, as their calm demeanour can help to reassure and inspire their team members, colleagues, fellow countrymen, and even a whole nation.
One such example of a leader that remained unflappable in the face of stress and provided a steady hand during tumultuous times was introverted leader Angela Merkel, the ex-Chancellor of Germany. Merkel is known for her calm and analytical approach to leadership, which has helped her guide her country through some of its most challenging moments, be that the coronavirus pandemic, rescuing the euro, the 2015 refugee crisis or dealing with the financial crisis of 2008. She was de facto the head of Europe and the most powerful woman in the world for 10 years running. Her legacy is a determined and silent one. Her leadership is based on sober evaluation and projecting reliability.
“Always be more than you appear and never appear to be more than you are” – Angela Merkel, German Chancellor
Known for her calm and level-headed approach to leadership, which has allowed her to navigate complex business situations with grace and skill, is Land O’Lakes CEO, Beth Ford. According to Ford, an open lesbian, “I believe in creating an environment where people feel valued and respected.” Her commitment to creating a positive work environment has helped Land O’Lakes maintain its position as a leading agricultural company, and her focus on stability and consistency has earned her the respect of her colleagues and industry peers.
Make space for the future leaders
While extraverted leaders certainly have their strengths, there are many compelling reasons why introverted leaders are the best leaders. Introverted leaders possess unique strengths that we can all learn from. They are great listeners, reflective, focused and disciplined, thoughtful decision-makers who remain humble and modest, and are able to create a calm and stable work environment. This makes them highly effective at leading teams and achieving success. By drawing inspiration from notable introverted leaders from all walks of life, including those from the LGBT community, we too can become better leaders in our own lives and careers by emulating these traits.
“The best investment you can make is in yourself.”, the fact that introverted leaders are able to invest in themselves and their leadership skills, ultimately leading to greater success for themselves and their organisations.” – Warren Buffett, CEO, Berkshire Hathaway
So, if you’re an introvert who has been hesitant to pursue a leadership role, know that your natural tendencies may actually make you uniquely the most suitable candidate for the job.