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Quiet confidence: why introverts make great leaders

When you ask someone what qualities make a good leader, it’s pretty easy to guess what they’ll say. “A leader has to be charismatic”, perhaps. “A good speaker needs to be brave, direct, and assertive”, you might hear. Maybe even, “A leader should be self-assured, confident, even a bit stubborn in order to inspire confidence in his or her followers”.

A look at popular culture seems to confirm these suspicions. From Braveheart to Independence Day to just about every sports movie ever made, leaders in popular culture make moving speeches, act upon impulsive (but correct) gut decisions, and generally fire everyone up. In life extroverts like Barack Obama, able to deliver fiery speeches to rile up supporters, often overshadow introverts, such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who are in many ways more effective.

However, recent findings have emerged to challenge this perception. Indeed, many high-level executives self-identify as introverts. This includes people as influential as Warren Buffett and Bill Gates.

Though it might seem like a paradox, in many situations an introverted leader can be even more effective at inspiring productivity, innovation, and self-leadership than an extroverted one. Read on to find out why.

Introverts dig deeper

Where an extrovert may feel the need to cover all the bases, the introvert prefers to gain mastery over a smaller number of areas. They’re attracted to expertise, not general ability, and tend to focus on getting a smaller number of things perfect over a larger number of things just good enough.

Introverts listen better

It’s no mistake that when someone thinks about extroverts, they remember famous speakers. That’s because extroverts do a lot of talking. And sometimes it can be too much – blocking out discussion and perhaps even stifling innovation. An introverted leader is much more inclined to foster the types of discussion that can lead to breakthroughs and new ways of thinking about problems – two heads is better than one, right?!

Introverts challenge themselves

Because of their focus on reflection and consideration, introverts are likely to be aware of their own weaknesses and limitations. While this awareness might put them at a small disadvantage in times when it’s necessary to bluff or project confidence in the face of extreme adversity, this awareness also makes them much more able to focus on areas ripe for self-improvement.

Introverts are reflective

It’s often said that introverts “recharge their batteries” during alone time. When they’re alone they can reflect on events, speculate about opportunities and work on self-improvement. The biggest breakthroughs tend to happen in moments of solitude and focus; strokes of genius that come out of the blue. In moments of introspection, solutions to persistent problems often reveal themselves and introverts are well-positioned to produce these moments. Preoccupied by social recharging, extroverts often miss such serendipitous moments.

Introverts are always prepared

In the same way that alone time encourages reflection and breakthroughs, it also encourages preparation. It’s the rare introvert that hasn’t spent some time preparing for an important engagement and anticipating possible questions, challenges and obstacles. On the other hand, an extrovert is more likely to have spent his or her time before distracted by social obligations – also an important skill, but in this case, a disadvantage.

Introverts reassure those around them

While an extroverted leader might have an edge on firing up the troops à la Braveheart, the introverted leader exudes calm and consideration. They’re simply cool. When things truly get bad, an expressive, extroverted leader – wearing their emotions on their face – might actually make everyone else more anxious and stressed, having an adverse effect on performance. An introvert, simply due to their own reluctance to express their emotions, can have a calming and reassuring effect on subordinates.

An underrated quality?

The boisterous energy of an extroverted leader can indeed be a serious strategic boon in the right situation. But introverts have been underestimated. In many situations an introvert’s specific areas of focus and expertise might prove more useful to a company. But who can blame people for noticing extroverts more? They certainly make enough noise.


Russel Cooke is a CRM specialist and writer who recently relocated t22o Los Angeles, CA. Follow him on Twitter @RusselCooke2

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.