Debunking the Top 5 Myths about Introverts

Do these descriptions remind you of anyone you know?

  • The reserved leader who listens first, and talks second.
  • The executive who is uninterested in mindless pleasantries, and instead dives right into the agenda.
  • The leader who sits back and observes during a contentious meeting and then calmly adds a well thought out and insightful comment at the end.

Chances are you have a few introverts in your life.  And most of the time us introverts are gravely misunderstood by our extrovert compatriots, especially in the world of work. (If you are unsure whether your preferences fall more towards introversion or extraversion, read the definitions housed on the Myers & Briggs Foundation website.)

It’s time to set the record straight.

Top 5 Myths about Introverts

1. Introverts don’t make good leaders.  
We often have a vision of leaders as charismatic, outgoing, personable, even aggressive — clear attributes of the extrovert.  But more and more research finds introverted traits are just as important when it comes to instilling greatness in teams and organizations.  According to Forbes contributor, Jennifer B. Kahnweiler, introverted leaders:

  • use their calm, quiet demeanors to be heard amid all the organizational noise and chatter
  • know how to ask great questions and really listen to the answers
  • project a reassuring, calm confidence in times of crisis
  • are comfortable with the written word which often helps them better articulate their positions and document their actions
  • use alone time to help them be responsive, not reactive

2. Introverts aren’t good networkers. 
It’s true networking “events” can be excruciating for introverts.  All that idle chit chat is exhausting.  But networking is about relationships, not the number of contacts in a Rolodex.  Because we value true connections, we know how to nurture relationships.

3. Introverts are shy.
Shyness stems from a fear of social interaction.  Introverts are not afraid of social interaction; we just pursue it differently than extroverts.  We’d rather socialize with a few people at a time, and often for less time.

4. Introverts don’t like people.
We like people, we just hate small talk.  We are energized by engaging in deep meaningful conversations with people who share or are interested in our passions.  We don’t talk for the sake of talking.  We love to connect, but loathe mingling.

5. Introverts would rather work alone. 
Yes, we introverts need to periodically spend time alone recharging our batteries, but we also feel unfulfilled if we don’t have anyone to share our ideas with.  Mere mention of “group working session” makes us want to run the other direction.  One-one-one or small group interactions are much more rewarding and natural.

To thrive in our more extroverted world, introverts have to adapt.  It’s not comfortable.  But it is necessary.

5 Ways Introverted Leaders Can Step It Up

1. Get comfortable in front of groups. 
Polish your public speaking skills – project your voice and give people direct eye contact.  Spend five minutes preparing a few notes, thoughts, questions before a big meeting and practice articulating the actual words out loud.

2. Show your face.
People want to hear your voice.  People want to see you.  So instead of sending an email, can you pick up the phone?  Can you grab a coffee or lunch together?  It might not be as efficient but it’s tough to build relationships and influence by email alone.

3. Speak up.
Don’t wait for someone to ask your opinion.  Don’t wait to chime in until the last five minutes of the discussion.  Quickly gather your thoughts and say something, even if you don’t think it’s the most astute comment.  Be heard.

4. Toot your horn.
Talk about your accomplishments.  That brilliant idea was yours and make sure people know it.  Don’t get passed over because people don’t know how great you are.

5. Use social media.
You are likely more comfortable sharing your ideas and thoughts through writing than talking.  Voila — Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn were made for you.  It’s never been easier to share and build genuine connections with so many people.  If you are not active on these tools, you are missing out.

Introverts who stay true to their innate preferences while also adapting to their extroverted surroundings will do just fine.  Just ask Bill Gates or Andrea Jung.

Marta Steele is a Partner at PeopleResults with, not surprisingly, strong introverted preferences.  She can be reached on Twitter @MartaSteele.