Whether in business or in life, we look to our leaders to teach us, guide us, and help us make sense of everything. Therefore, most successful leaders have a strong sense of confidence, are highly engaged, and can make key decisions for the entire team.
Because human beings are social by nature, we associate these strong leadership qualities with people who are more extroverted. Extroverts exude confidence in large groups because that's where they draw their energy, so they naturally seem like the strongest leaders. Besides being confident and engaged, they're also highly competent at bringing people together, and their good judgement is always on display. But if you think introverts aren't equally good--and, in some ways, better--leaders and managers, you've been sorely misled.
Science is continually proving that assumption false, and Harvard Business Review research has shown that introverts are more effective leaders in complex and unpredictable settings. In fact, introverts are uniquely suited to navigate situations that extroverts can't, and that quiet leadership is often critical to a company's long-term success.
Introverts are just as adept at leading, and in some ways, they have an advantage over their extroverted counterparts. Here are some of the myriad leadership characteristics of introverts that are often overlooked.
1. They're motivated by productivity, not ambition.
One of the most common misconceptions about introverts is that they aren't as motivated to succeed as more socially driven people. The truth, though, is that they're simply motivated by different factors, and they measure success by different metrics.
The introverted brain is wired differently in that its reward systems are triggered by different stimuli. Instead of recognition and professional advancement, an introverted leader gains more satisfaction from maintaining the team's productivity and high-quality work.
2. They build more meaningful connections.
Because introverts are motivated by quality and productivity, they can often seem disconnected from other people, unable or unwilling to build personal connections. As with their motivation, however, the connections introverts build just happen to be focused on different priorities.
While they may not be openly conversational in large groups, introverts are great at developing deeper, more meaningful connections with employees and clients in a one-on-one setting. This genuine relationship-building makes an introverted leader more in tune with each member of the team than an extroverted leader might be.
3. They don't get easily distracted.
Introverts aren't exactly disconnected from other people and their environment, but they are better able to tune out the noise and concentrate. They draw their energy from within, and therefore they can easily focus on the task at hand without being distracted by loud conversations or other office noise.
The ability to concentrate amid distraction further enhances the qualities that make introverts great leaders to begin with. Their motivation for quality and productivity is easier to maintain, and they can focus on the needs of their team members without being sidetracked by other tasks or demands.
4. They solve problems with thoroughness rather than in haste.
Problem-solving is the crux of all good leadership, and according to research, introverts typically have thicker gray matter in the prefrontal cortex, which is the area of the brain where abstract thinking and decision making happen. This leads introverts to make a decision after giving it great thought and reflecting on creative ways to solve problems. Research has also found that introverts are less likely to make snap decisions.
And because quality work is always the goal for introverts, they don't settle for mediocrity. For example, an introverted leader will be less likely to approve a project if other team members have objections or misgivings. The leader will want to ensure its success by addressing those concerns directly before moving forward. If a disagreement does arise, the lack of concern for social standing gives an introverted leader the advantage in addressing the issue for the good of the project.
The best leaders aren't always the loudest and most noticeable ones, and the idea that introverts can't make the cut is a dangerously misleading one. The truth is that any company would do well to help the introverts among its ranks rise, allowing them to shine, even if they prefer to do so away from the spotlight.