The Secret Power Of Introverts

If you had to guess, what would you say investor
Warren Buffett and civil rights activist Rosa Parks
had in common? How about Charles Darwin, Al
Gore, J.K. Rowling, Albert Einstein, Mahatma Gandhi
and Google’s Larry Page? They are icons. They are
leaders. And they are introverts.
Despite the corporate world’s insistence on brazen
confidence–Speak up! Promote yourself! Network!
—one third to half of Americans are believed to be
introverts, according to Susan Cain, author of just
released Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World
That Can’t Stop Talking. She contends that
personality shapes our lives as profoundly as
gender and race, and where you fall on the
introvert-extrovert spectrum is the single most
important aspect of your personality.
Introverts may make up nearly half the population,
but Cain says they are second-class citizens.
“A widely held, but rarely articulated, belief in our
society is that the ideal self is bold, alpha,
gregarious,” says Cain. “Introversion is viewed
somewhere between disappointment and
pathology.”
The terms “introvert” and “extrovert” were first
made popular by psychologist Carl Jung in the
1920s and then later by the Myers-Briggs
personality test, used in major universities and
corporations. By Cain’s definition, introverts prefer
less stimulating environments and tend to enjoy
quiet concentration, listen more than they talk and
think before they speak. Conversely, extroverts are
energized by social situations and tend to be
assertive multi-taskers who think out loud and on
their feet.
It was over the last century, says Cain, that society
began reshaping itself as an extrovert’s paradise—
to the introvert’s demise. She explains that before
the twentieth century, we lived in what historians
called a “culture of character,” when you were
expected to conduct yourself morally with quiet
integrity. But when people starting flocking to the
cities and working for big businesses the question
became, how do I stand out in a crowd? We
morphed into a “culture of personality,” which she
says sparked a fascination with glittering movie
stars, bubbly employees and outgoing leadership.

In the last few decades, this “Extrovert Ideal” has
transformed workplaces, says Cain. Independent,
autonomous work that favored employee privacy
was eroded and practically replaced by what she
calls “The New Groupthink,” which “elevates
teamwork above all else.” Children now learn in
groups. Ideas are formed in brainstorming sessions.
Talkers are considered smarter. Employees are
hired for “people skills,” and offices are designed to
be open and interactive.
Yet, according to Cain, it’s only worked to damage
innovation and productivity. Research shows that
charismatic leaders earn bigger paychecks but do
not have better corporate performance; that
brainstorming results in lower quality ideas and the
more vocally assertive extroverts are the most
likely to be heard; that the amount of space allotted
to each employee shrunk 60% since the 1970s; and
that open office plans are associated with reduced
concentration and productivity, impaired memory,
higher turnover and increased illness.
If we all lose in this situation, introverts lose more
—with skills that are more likely to be overlooked
and underappreciated. “Introverts living under the
Extrovert Ideal are like women living in a man’s
world,” says Cain. “Our most important institutions
are designed for extroverts. We have a waste of
talent.”
Cain is not seeking introvert domination. She
acknowledges that big ideas and great leadership
can come from either personality type. What she
wants is a better balance and inclusion of different
work styles. “In most job interviews, people say
they are looking for people skills and emotional
intelligence,” notes Cain. “That’s reasonable, but
the question is, how do you define what that looks
like?”
Furthermore, she believes that extroverted and
introverted leaders excel in different areas and can
learn from each other. Studies show that introverts
are better at leading proactive employees because
they listen to and let them run with their ideas.
Meanwhile, extroverts are better at leading passive
employees because they have a knack for
motivation and inspiration.
While extroverted leaders could learn from their
counterparts to take a more careful approach to risk
and let others speak up, Cain says introverted
leaders need to push themselves to be more social.
She offers John Lilly, former CEO of Mozilla, as an
example. He would force himself to walk the halls
and make eye contact because he hadn’t realized
how much it offended people when he didn’t greet
them.
Ultimately, Cain believes, as a society, we are
starving for stillness and need to turn down the
noise. “It’s a very powerful thing to be quiet and
collect your thoughts.”

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8 thoughts on “The Secret Power Of Introverts

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