Wednesday, September 23, 2015

In Praise of Strong Silent Types

While the received image of most business leaders and self-starters is that of someone with a gregarious, outgoing, and commanding personality, more and more business experts and psychologists are uncovering the unique skills that introverts bring to the board room table. This is discussed in a recent Wall Street Journal article which makes a strong case for “the introverted entrepreneur.”

Those talents include: “the ability to focus for long periods, a propensity for balanced and critical thinking, a knack for quietly empowering others,” all of which might make them better equipped for entrepreneurial and business success than extroverts. Among the world-conquering entrepreneurs and CEOs who self-identify as introverts or are largely viewed that way in the public imagination are: Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, Google co-founder Larry Page, Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, Yahoo president and CEO Marissa Mayer, and chairman and CDEO of Berkshire Hathaway Warren Buffet.

Introverts succeed because they “create and lead companies from a very focused place,” according to Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking and founder of Quiet Revolution, a website focused on the personality type. Cain says another key attribute that sets introverted leaders apart: they’re generally not interested in “leadership for personal glory, and they steer clear of the cult of personality.”

WSJ reporter Elizabeth Bernstein debunks several myths about introverts. They are not necessarily shy or antisocial. Introverts, whom experts say comprise about a third of the population, simply draw most of their energy and process information internally. There are “social introverts” who gravitate toward others but still need a higher ratio of solitude to social time.

According to Beth Buelow, a speaker and coach who is founder of The Introvert Entrepreneur, a website for introverts: “The best businesspeople aren’t necessarily the best talkers, but the best listeners, the people who ask the right questions.” Rather than processing information quickly and spitting out opinions, Buelow says “introverts take it in, process it and turn it around. They can sit with those dots long enough to see where the connection is.” And introverts tend to rely on their own inner compass, rather than external signals, to know they’re making the right decision or doing a good job.

I’ve worked in business long enough to know that it is a vast enough arena to accommodate all kinds of personalities. There’s no one-size-fits-all personality for creative leadership, and I couldn’t agree with the premise of the article more—that introvert traits should be recognized and valued in the business world. Just think of Marlon Brando in The Godfather. Don Corleone may have spoken in a whisper, but you hung on his every word.

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