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I have encountered these questions very frequently in recent times in coaching a range of business people all over the world. It has struck me how many introverted business people find themselves in extrovert jobs; that is roles that are perceived to require “extroverted” behaviour in order to succeed. I sense quite a lot of you nodding your head as you relate to this, right?
A Great Example
For many such introverts, this can become a very draining situation. Let me share one typical such situation so you can relate. This country leader of a global financial organisation lamented how difficult he found what he called “the cocktail zone”, that is when he was required to mix and mingle and make relationship “small talk” with a cross section of customers, clients, and a range of other senior business executives. While he has developed a successful range of “people skills” and also very capable leadership skills, he has a background as “a numbers person” and has a brilliant and successful career behind him that elevated him into this very senior and very visible position. You guessed it, he is also very introvert. He shared with me how very draining this was for him, and that he did it because he had to. But it was very hard for him and that he went home afterwards each time, completely spent.
I’m sure many of you will be able to appreciate this story because you might find yourself in similar situations. What I have also found, is how many business people are unaware of the impact their introversion or extroversion can have on them. It often takes a coach to highlight that for them, and help them develop some strategies on how to better maximize their preferences. We usually also help them recognize such preferences in others and leverage that “Awareness” into being better able to match and mirror them, so as to build or strengthen their rapport with these people. That’s a fundamental I teach in my “soft skills grooming”.
Introvert and Extrovert Ratios
In 1998 research done via the MBTI Manual that came out with a National Representative Sample, it was found that the Extrovert to Introvert ratios were:
- E 49.3%, I 50.7% in total
- E 45.9%, I 54.1% in males
- E 52.5%, I 47.5% in females
So while we always suggest the ratio to be roughly 50 / 50, it is interesting that the gender reflection shows quite a swing of more extroverts being female than male.
Better or Worse and Good or Bad?
Now let’s be very clear that being extrovert or introvert is neither better nor worse, OK? It’s also neither good nor bad. However, in our westernized business world, their appears to be a perception that “extrovert is better”. That extroverted people are “more successful”. Why? I have learned that it’s because they are always talking and seem always to have something to say. People associate that with confidence and so the “success” perception is created.
Now conversely, while I don’t believe that people necessarily think that introverts are less successful, (extroverts are often too busy talking to notice that, right?) it is often the introverts that have developed a limiting belief around that. And so a range of stereotyped perceptions have emerged, often strongly fueled and fed by personal and professional development industries that make a living out of thinking it is their responsibility to make people believe all business people have to become extroverts so “you too can become successful”.
Well, as an introvert myself, I have learned both from my own “successful” executive career as well as the hundreds of clients I’ve coached that there is ample proof that this is indeed a “furfie”. Both have equal strengths, provided we become aware of them and learn how to leverage them.
Research Shows Big Differences to Perceptions
There is also growing research that supports the notion of strength of equality between them.
Jim Collins book “Good to Great” and also the book “Think Big, Act Small” by Jason Jennings both found in their research into what made selected companies so much more successful than their competitors, that one myth was to find the quintessential charismatic and extroverted CEO at the helm. In most cases it was the opposite. It was the mainly quietly determined, more reserved, even shy introvert in most cases that led and drove these extraordinary results.
Why? Introverts are generally better listeners and find it easier to be interested in others rather than being so focused on themselves. They are better at “Leading From Behind” because they don’t need all the accolades and all the “Visibility”. They just need the results. And so they hire people into roles that thrive on the talking and on the absolutely unbeatable strengths that extrovert behaviour can bring to the table. But in building their teams, their awareness allows them to pick and place the right personalities, temperaments and competencies in the right roles.
In my blog “Authenticity” I wrote about our best (and most enjoyable) results coming from when we are comfortably able to play out our life and work being and doing “who we really are” while doing what we love best or conversely, that the notion of “fake it until you make it” is indeed unsustainable in the long run. That isn’t to say we shouldn’t be “stretched” and get out of “The Comfort Zone”. But it does suggest playing to our strengths.
Another extremely relevant book I have been referring so many clients to recently is Susan Cain’s book “Quiet“. Her tagline is “the power of the introvert in a world that can’t stop talking”. Most of my more introverted clients have come back to me with incredibly positive feedback on the impact this book has made on their life. Proof that the notion of “Leaders are Readers” is indeed alive and well to those that practice and apply it.
You’re probably wondering what happened to my aforementioned bank exec? Well, we took the concept I outlined in “Energizing or Draining, What Makes It So?” and developed a strategy to help him prepare for and mitigate this “draining”. He agreed over a week to become extremely self aware and to capture across two lists what he does all day and every day at work (and when he works at home). One was to write down activities that energized him (probably because he loved doing those and did them very well) and the other to write down those that he found cumbersome and draining. Yep, that’s right, they were also the ones he disliked doing and felt he wasn’t very good at and where he could also be subject to what I wrote about in “Procrastination”.
And being a banker, he understood readily what we did next with those lists. Firstly, a day or so before such a “cocktail event” (or other similarly draining activities) he, with the help of his EA, would concentrate on building up a bank balance of positive and inspiring energy by focusing on tasks he loved doing best and avoiding as many as he could of those that drained him. Secondly, he also used this excercise to be able to delegate more of such tasks to others around him that loved doing them, that had strengths in these tasks and / or needed to or wanted to further develop them.
However, the main benefit by far was that he was able to utilize the “banked up” positive energy from that to ride out the next “cocktail zone event” very successfully and come out the other end in pretty good shape.
Another hallmark of this story was his reading Susan Cain’s book “Quiet”. Like numerous other introverts recently, he shared with me afterwards how much the awareness this book generated had in fact “changed his life”. Wow – strong words, but isn’t that what this is all about?
That we can make such a difference in our own lives and those that we lead and care about around us by developing an awareness of what is and isn’t perception versus reality. And then to implement strategies around that newfound awareness to make the required changes.
The result? No longer seeing things perceived to be a weakness, but rather finding and convincing ourselves of their strengths and leveraging them to our benefit (and to the benefit of others). Why? So that we can look forward with confidence and when we get to reflect on our life later on, we look back in satisfaction rather than regret.
You realize that it is “just a choice”, don’t you?
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