Tuesday April 10, 2012
By Sally Brand, Business Development Manager
Leaders come in many shapes and sizes. In the Western world, however, many traditionally perceive a successful leader as having certain 'extrovert' personality traits; outwardly charismatic, dynamic, and sociable. Think Tony Blair, John. F. Kennedy and Steve Jobs. In schools and the workplace, such extrovert traits are often encouraged and idealised. Group work forms a large part of the curriculum; children who are sociable and gregarious are often admired and praised, unlike the quiet 'bookworms' who keep to themselves. In the workplace, offices are often open plan with employees encouraged to work, and make decisions, in teams. Those who are naturally more introverted can often be overlooked; it’s been proven that they are less likely to be promoted into leadership positions.
In her new best-selling book 'Quiet' and her phenomenally well received TED talk (the most viewed posting ever on TED.com during its first week of going live), Susan Cain, challenges us, to consider the notion that, as a society, to our own detriment, we fail to recognise a wealth of much needed talent and creativity by ignoring the introverts.
When discussing introversion/extroversion, introverts are those who get their energy internally i.e. from their thoughts, ideas and memories. It’s not about being shy or lacking confidence. An extrovert, in contrast, gains their energy from those around them, activities and events. Introversion/extroversion is measured as spectrum; as such it is not about putting everyone into one box or the other. Carl Jung, the first psychologist to clearly identify introversion and extroversion, stated: "there is no such thing as a pure extrovert or a pure introvert. Such a man would be in the lunatic asylum. They are only terms to designate a certain penchant”. Research shows that approximately two thirds of people fall in the middle ranges, known as "ambiversion". The extremes on the scale represent approximately 16% each (Bartol & Bartol: "Criminal Behavior: A Psychosocial Approach”, 2008).
Whilst those of Eastern heritage and culture are, in general, found to err towards introversion, Western society has conditioned us to believe that if we want to get ahead it’s favourable to exhibit extrovert behaviours despite, there being 'no correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas' (Cain). To prove her point; Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Steve Wozniak and Theodor Seuss Geisel (AKA Dr. Seuss) are just a few examples of highly successful introverts. Gates famously said “Be nice to nerds. Chances are you'll end up working for one”
Given there is such talent available, it’s vital for organisations to unearth this in everyone. Tapping into potential to enable introverts to perform at their best often means providing a different kind of support and stimulation. For instance, a less outgoing person may prefer working in a quieter environment, perhaps remotely. By adapting working processes where possible, it’s likely to achieve much better results in the long run as well as creating a more collaborative and rich culture.
Recognising these behavioural preferences is not always easy so they key is to treat everyone with equal respect and ask them how they’d prefer to work and be managed. Also when a new individual is recruited into an organisation, the quicker you can understand what makes them tick, the better. Sophisticated psychometric tools such as iWAM®, can help managers really understand key personality traits. By doing so, they receive the most from their people whilst creating strong team dynamics.
Regardless of whether an individual veers toward introvert or extrovert behaviour, it's important for people to work within the right environment to feel confident about stepping outside of their comfort zone. Cain gives the example of Gandhi, who was naturally very introverted. However, he shifted away from his preferred behavioural norms and moved into the limelight, on a global scale, in order to achieve his overarching goals. It’s important to be adaptable and not afraid to stretch yourself. Organisations that help their people do this are likely to witness higher rates of employee engagement, motivation and confidence.
Ultimately it really is about being prepared to recognise all kinds of talent and nurture it. Whilst an introvert might not be as forthcoming about their talents, people savvy organisations are putting robust mechanisms into place, to ensure that all individuals are recognised and everyone in the organisation has an opportunity to have their say and share their ideas, innovations and achievements. As a result, organisations are able to achieve maximum outputs including enhanced creativity, improved products and reduced labour turnover.
Are you able to identify introvert and extrovert personalities within your organisation and make the most of their talents? What support mechanisms do you provide to enable individuals to reach their full potential?