Introverts are often more careful listeners and more receptive to suggestions. According to researchers from The Wharton School, Harvard Business School, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, introverts may be better able to lead dynamic professional environments where employees are more vocal in sharing their ideas and are more proactive in how they engage in their work (Grant, Gino, & Hofmann, 2010).
Results indicated that when employees are not very proactive, extroverted leadership may drive greater productivity, but on teams where workers offer their own ideas for improvement, introverted leaders were more productive.
Why? It may be that some of the quirky ways introverts are wired match particularly well with some management best practices. Here are four particular ways introverted leaders often excel.
1. Empowering the Leaders Who Report to Them
Introverted leaders frequently offer a type of management well-suited to the administrative demands of high-performing organizations, guiding in ways that honor the human ecology alongside corporate structures and expectations within the typical modern workplace–for example, introverts tend toward decentralized leadership approaches that empower a diversified portfolio of senior administrators, middle managers, and front line supervisors. Thus, introverted leaders are less likely to fall into the traps set by their own social ego, to their organization's benefit.
2. Listening for Understanding Before Acting
Introverts famously tend toward listening over talking, and, as practice makes perfect, many introverted leaders develop into the kind of listeners that put to good use their strength of listening well. Consequently, their employees and other stakeholders reap the benefits. Clinical psychologist Laurie Helgoe (2013) wrote that the best kind of listener is one who doesn’t hijack a conversation yet remains engaged with the other person as they communicate. While many people listen to respond, many introverts “take in what you’re saying, think about it, and then respond, while extroverts want to engage in a back-and-forth.”
3. Clear, Written Communication
Introverts self-edit in the verbal sphere more than non-introverts, and that practiced skill is largely transferable to writing. Introverts are frequently careful writers, and often thorough. Research published in The Journal of Neuroscience found that introverts’ brains have more gray matter, on average, in the prefrontal cortex where abstract thought is processed (Holmes, et al, 2012).
Whereas extroverts tend to live more spontaneously, introverts have an innate capacity to turn ideas and words over again and again in their minds to understand and shape them before inserting them into the moment, which has often passed. Fortunately, leadership excellence does not rely on wielding words in the moment.
When an introvert has the opportunity, alternatively, to communicate the shape of thoughts in the written word, they are often more at ease and more precise in doing so.
4. Deliberative Decision-making
The executive folds of introverts’ brains contain long, winding pathways that typically require more time to traverse than extroverts’. Yet many introverts are conscientious and reliable information gatherers and decision-processors. Considering multiple sources and sides to arguments is valuable, and measured reactions may be invaluable. This is another reason that many introverts are exceptional leaders in times of crisis, seasons of change, and in the face of great challenges.
Some of the world's greatest and most consequential leaders have been introverts. Abraham Lincoln loved to spend many nights reading and writing and was famously silent in the midst of many group arguments, intently listening and considering before commanding attention with wisdom.
It may be that thicker regions of the prefrontal cortex, on average, go hand in hand with a prowess for deliberative argumentation and decision-making (Holmes, et al, 2012). Nevertheless, introverts commonly face Western cultural bias favoring quick wit and social gregariousness.
For organizations aiming to grow a workforce of motivated and proactive professionals, an introvert may well be the best pick for the job.
Grant, A., Gino, F., & Hofmann, D. A. (2010, December). The hidden advantages of quiet bosses. Harvard Business Review 88(12).
Helgoe, L. A. (2013). Introvert power: Why your inner life is your hidden strength (2nd ed.). Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks, Inc.
Holmes, A. J., Lee, P. H., Hollinshead, M. O., Bakst, J. L., Roffman, J. L., Smoller, J. W., & Buckner, R. L. (2012, December 12). Individual differences in amygdala-medial prefrontal anatomy link negative affect, impaired social functioning, and polygenic depression risk. The Journal of Neuroscience 32(50). DOI: https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2531-12.2012.
Strozier, C. B. (1982). Lincoln’s quest for union: Public and private meanings. New York, NY: Basic Books.