Some reports say that up to 40 percent of executives self-describe as introverts. This list includes Marissa Mayer, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, and Andrea Jung (former CEO of Avon), just to name a few.
Yet introverts often get a bad rap when it comes to leadership and the workplace. One study showed that 65 percent of senior corporate executives saw introversion as a "barrier" to leadership.
It's important to know that there are a number of reasons introverts can actually make very strong leaders--in some cases, even stronger. Here are three of them:
1. They're good listeners
Where extroverted leaders tend to dominate in meetings, introverts keep quiet more of the time. This can be a big advantage, particularly on a team comprised of extroverts.
According to research published in the Harvard Business Review, "In a dynamic, unpredictable environment, introverts are often more effective leaders -- particularly when workers are proactive, offering ideas for improving the business. Such behavior can make extroverted leaders feel threatened. In contrast, introverted leaders tend to listen more carefully and show greater receptivity to suggestions, making them more effective leaders of vocal teams."
2. They take time to think
Introverts tend to be exceedingly observant, noticing details and connections others don't. That said, they generally need more time to process things and make decisions. While this doesn't guarantee they'll make the right choice every time, it probably improves the odds.
The best introverted leaders are open about this fact, and communicative when it comes to decision-making timelines. For example, Martin Schmidler, VP at a national food service brand, frequently tells his team he needs time to take things in.
If he's asked a question or has just seen a presentation, he lets his team know when and how he'll get back to them. Then he follows through. This not only builds trust with the team, but lets him work to his advantage--being thoughtful and deliberate in his reflections.
3. They don't overlook other introverts
Just because someone didn't speak up in a meeting doesn't mean they have nothing to add. If louder and more outgoing colleagues dominated the discussion, they may not have felt like they could get a word in edgewise.
A skilled manager will elicit feedback from everyone in the room, not just the extroverts. But a truly great one will understand that the quieter people may simply need a one-on-one conversation to share their deeper thoughts. Introverts can get overwhelmed in large-group settings and become reticent to share. But their contributions can be critical and, in the end, brilliant, for all the reasons already outlined.
It takes one to know one, and introverted leaders can empathize with introverted team members.
According to the research, the winning combination for teams is neither an introverted leader or an extroverted leader--it's about the leader plus the team. The best pairing is an extroverted leader with introverted followers, or an introverted leader with extroverted followers.
Why? Because an extroverted leader can feel threatened by proactive suggestions on the part of employees. Introverted leaders, on the other hand, tend to listen closely to the ideas of the team members, and adjust.
According to the researchers, "While it's often true that extroverts make the best bosses and proactive employees make the best workers, combining the two can be a recipe for failure. Soft spoken leaders may get the most out of proactive employees--so save the outgoing, talkative managers for teams that function best when they're told what to do."