by Suzanne Yost
The loudest voice in the room is not always the right voice to follow. I’m sure we all could give examples of times in our life when going along with the person who stated their opinion in the most confident way led us astray.
Leaders need followers, but in order to be a good leader, they need to learn when to speak and when to just hush up. A leader is a trailblazer; they’re there to guide, to find a way. A leader is a pathfinder, forging a way for others to follow.
However, a leader shouldn’t brashly rip through the brush on the trail before them, shouting directions as they go. Unfortunately, in our schools, workplaces, and other spheres of society, that’s often what happens. Why? Because we’ve been conditioned to view the most extroverted or aggressive way as the right way.
Introverts can make incredible leaders, too. In fact, I think they make some of the best ones, and here are four reasons why.
Why Introverts Make Great Leaders
1. Just because your voice is loud doesn’t necessarily mean you have good ideas.
Many introverts are known for their quiet demeanor. Now, this isn’t true for all introverts, but to generalize, introverts tend to seek the attention, or the floor, much less than extroverts do.
Susan Cain dedicated an entire chapter of her book, Quiet, to introverted leadership. Late in the chapter, she writes: “If we assume that quiet and loud people have roughly the same number of good (and bad) ideas, then we should worry if the leader and more forceful people always carry the day.”
Uh-oh. Cain also speaks to research on group dynamics that confirm this hypothesis as reality. She writes about a team-building scenario played out by groups of students at Harvard. In almost every group, the loudest person’s voice won out. Even if a quieter person had more knowledge or experience, people generally followed the more assertive individual.
It’s almost as if we’re conditioned to see the person talking as the person leading. But sometimes, the best leaders know when to step back.
2. Introverted leaders can increase profits and productivity.
The research is clear: In certain conditions, introverted leaders outperform extroverted ones. In one study, Adam Grant and his team looked at managers and employees at 130 franchises of a pizza delivery company located in the U.S. They asked bosses about their personality, and they asked employees how often they “try to bring about improved procedures.” They also collected data on the stores’ profits.
They found that profits were 16 percent higher when extroverted managers were paired with less proactive employees. However, when extroverts had employees who offered plenty of suggestions for company improvement, profits decreased by 14 percent. Could it be that the extroverted leaders felt threatened by their employees’ ideas and didn’t respond well to them?
In another study, Grant and his team had college students work in groups to see how many T-shirts they could fold in 10 minutes. Each group had one leader and four followers. But there was a catch. The researchers had some groups read a statement extolling the virtues of extroverted leaders (for example, John F. Kennedy), while other groups read about introverted leaders (Gandhi and Abraham Lincoln). They also planted some researchers posing as followers in the groups who stopped the group after 90 seconds and suggested a better way to do the task.
Again, Grant and his team found that introverted leaders responded better than extroverted leaders to the proactive followers. They listened and allowed them to bring their ideas forward to benefit the group. And the benefits of this kind of leadership? The groups with introverted leaders and proactive followers folded, on average, 28 percent more T-shirts.
What business or organization wouldn’t want to increase productivity?
Extroverts have long been stereotyped as the superior leaders. As a result, introverts may be less likely to be given opportunities to lead. However, by looking at the facts, it should be that introverts are encouraged to lead.
3. Introverts are practiced listeners.
This is the biggest argument, in my opinion, in support of introverted leadership. In today’s culture, we have a habit of talking and talking and leaving little room for listening.
Leadership doesn’t require constant talking. Good leadership entails knowing when to instruct and when to listen. Not to name-drop, but many of the world’s greatest leaders were quiet and gentle introverts, such as Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa, and Nelson Mandela. In fact, history is populated with great, introverted leaders. This is because, in part, many introverts have the innate ability to listen to what others say, internalize, and mull things over before coming to a calculated decision.
4. Introverts are excellent observers.
Introverts are known for their ability to survey a situation from the outskirts and come out more wholly informed than the people in the fray. It takes rational judgement based on accurate information to lead a group of people to success. That is much more easily attained when one is skilled in the art of observation. Good leadership requires a big-picture look at things, but also a detailed eye. Many introverts have the capability to deliver both.
I’ve known many wonderful extroverted leaders, but it’s time we stop looking to them as the only viable possibility for leadership. For too long, we’ve listened to the captivating voice that demands our attention, but it could be for the best if we take the time to follow the quieter one. As Susan Cain wrote, “Quiet leadership is not an oxymoron.”