Revealing Insights Into How Introverts Lead At Work

Introverts at Work

Quick. Can you identify the introverts on your team? Chances are you can (and you might even be one of them).

Most of us can recognize the introverted traits — such as thriving on silent reflection and solitude — and we know the jokes. But sometimes we don’t realize what a great leadership resource introverts can be (even if we’re introverts ourselves).

This week we take a quick tour through introversion — and extroversion — in the workplace and on the leadership team, and see how leveraging strengths from both groups is just good business.

Quiet leadership, dynamic duos, and making the connection between diversity and profitability. Introversion has a strong voice these days. Intrigued? Check out our links below.

An Introvert and an Extrovert Walk into a Meeting…

Business team productivity can vary quite a bit based on whether an extrovert or an introvert is in charge, says Harvard Business School professor Francesca Gino. Can you guess which does better, according to her?

If you answered “it depends” — you’re onto something. In her article for Harvard Business Review, Introverts, Extroverts, and the Complexities of Team Dynamics,” Gino explains that when teams crave strong top-down guidance, extroverted leaders bring the vision and energy to get them going. But when teams are bursting with their own initiative, introverted leaders do best.

This makes good sense, but can it really impact a company’s bottom line?

To answer that, Gino and her colleagues conducted a study on a popular pizza-delivery chain, looking for the impact of the intro/extroversion of the store’s leader on monthly profitability.

The results were clear: extroverted leadership was an advantage when a store was made up of mostly passive employees, but was a disadvantage when employees were proactive, with about a 15% swing in profitability either way.

Clearly it pays to pay attention to team dynamics when choosing leaders.

What happens when leadership is already in place and you need to work with what you’ve got? Gino rounds out her article with ways that companies can address the introversion/extroversion team dynamic, particularly in meetings — not to neutralize the differences, but to leverage both groups’ strengths. See the surprising way Jeff Bezos starts each meeting at Amazon for just this reason.

Do you have a similar dynamic in your team? If so, this article is an excellent way to begin the discussion.

Introverts as Leaders

Seems we can’t shake the myth that great leadership requires extroversion, despite some good examples to the contrary (Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Warren Buffett). But are quiet leaders just outliers — or are there qualities about introversion that translate to good leadership skills?

Wall Street Journal columnist Elizabeth Bernstein tackles this issue in her article Why Introverts Make Great Entrepreneurs.”

Bernstein focuses on qualities that benefit entrepreneurs, but you’ll be nodding your head as you read whether you’re an entrepreneur or not. It’s clear she’s talking about basic leadership qualities, especially those that favor innovation inside an existing business.

So which qualities is she highlighting?

Everything from their approach to problem-solving, to adjusting to setbacks, to better listening and observation skills. She’s not extrovert-bashing, but she does draw a direct line from many introverted tendencies — such as craving solitude — to the entrepreneurial habit that can benefit from those tendencies.

As she says, “Being comfortable being alone—and thinking before acting—can give introverts a leg up as they formulate a business plan or come up with new strategies…”

What’s most fascinating, however, is a supporting graphic of the results of a study published in 2009 by Industrial Psychology that contrasts the level of extroversion in the general public with the percentage of extroversion represented in the management ranks of American businesses.

Not only is extroversion significantly overrepresented at all levels of management, it marches higher and higher to account for an amazing 97% of top executives.

What’s your take on Bernstein’s correlations between introversion and great leadership habits? Whether your leadership team is introverted or extroverted, there’s food for thought here on how introverts at work — and all of us who have some introverted qualities — can support great business results.

Introverts and Extroverts: The New Power Couple

Next, we dig into our own blog for a look at a new kind of “power couple” – the partnerships of introverts and extroverts. In The Genius of Opposites: Introverts and Extroverts Working Together,” Redbooth’s Diana Ecker delves into the new book by speaker and author Jennifer Kahnweiler, which highlights these dynamic duos.

In her book, Kahnweiler pleads the case for introverted leaders working against their type in order to fit in with their extroverted colleagues. Not only do individual leaders suffer the energy drains of pretending to be more extroverted, she argues, but businesses miss out many of on the contributions that come directly from the introverted qualities they do have.

To support her thesis, Dr Kahnweiler highlights famous introvert-extrovert duos, like Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs, and how their close collaboration yielded such excellent results — because of, not despite, their very different levels of extroversion.

What emerges is not just a blueprint of how extroverted and introverted team members can leverage each other’s strengths — but also a primer on how to understand and be patient with each other’s quirks.

It’s exciting to uncover how introverts and extroverts can work together better. Whichever side of the scale you’re on, you will pick up a pointer or two you can begin to use today.

Introversion: The New Diversity Category?

Are you getting the sense there’s a movement afoot? What began as a simple call for the inclusion of the quieter team members has turned into a full-fledged diversity movement, with data and studies to back up claims for better representation in the workforce. The rallying cry to management: leveraging introverts means good business.

Bestselling author Jennifer Kahnweiler (her latest book, The Genius of Opposites, is highlighted above) is leading the call for introversion to be included in the diversity conversation in the workplace. In her article Introverts Prompt A New Diversity Conversation she highlights three reasons why introversion has earned its place.

Her argument echoes what we’ve already learned: introverted tendencies make for great leaders and can boost a company’s bottom line; blending introverts and extroverts on teams translates into creativity more than the sum of its parts; and introverted leaders are significantly underrepresented in leadership roles.

So what is she calling on businesses to do?

Step number one is training for all managers to recognize the importance of introverted qualities on their staff and how to leverage the blend of intro/extroversion they find on their teams. Other ideas include raising the profile of introverted leadership and making changes to the physical space.

What changes is your business ready to make? No matter how diverse your leadership team, this article provides powerful persuasion to take a second look.

Managing Introversion: A Success Story

What do you do when a very capable team member starts to founder after a well-deserved promotion? Long-time manager Adam Rosenfeld recounts his story in Helping an Introvert Find Her Way for Susan Cain’s Quiet Revolution blog.

First, he thought he detected a skill deficit — the employee was a project manager whose meeting management ability was at issue — and so he recommended training. But he learned during one-on-ones that this team member was drained and exhausted by her new duties, although she continued to excel at the other ones.

This becomes a “trading places” story when Rosenfeld finds another employee with the flip-side problem: a systems manager that was starting to get restless with her solitary tasks, but came alive in project meetings. Rosenfeld — with upper management’s approval — gets the two to swap. The employees thrive and harmony is restored.

What’s helpful about this story is hearing how words like drained, invigorated and discomfort become part of an employee assessment. Instead of a myopic focus on skills, or attributing poor performance to aptitude or lack of training, we hear a manager pay attention to the personality characteristics of his team — and see his effort to place his staff in positions that align with them.

That makes it a good-news story in more ways than one, and an excellent model for the rest of us of how leaders can unlock productivity gains — and happier employees — by paying attention to the introversion/extroversion qualities of their teams.

Redbooth makes it easy to bring together teams of varied personality types in multiple locations. With both real-time and asynchronous communication, everyone can be heard. Find out more about Redbooth >>