When you think of a CEO, what do you picture? Do you see a gregarious, larger-than-life personality whose character takes up the volume of the room they’re in?
While “quiet” and “reserved” aren’t usually words that we think of when describing a great leader, maybe we should. Introverted individuals like Mark Zukerburg prove that you don’t have to be the loudest personality in the room to be at the top of your game. In fact, it’s estimated that 4 in 10 top executives working today identify with introverted personality traits (these are traits that about one third of the population also shares!)
Introverts thrive on a different kind of energy to ascend in their field. And though they’re often described as “shy,” that doesn’t stop them from running some of the most successful companies and social movements in history. So what traits do these inspirational leaders have in common that makes them so successful?
- They make eloquent public speakers – Introvert Barack Obama is known for his thoughtful communication in front of millions, yet widely criticized for his “aloof” personality at events. While they may not enjoy working a room, introverts usually make excellent public speakers. Why? Because chances are at some time in their career they were told to work on it (more about their listening skills later.) Simply put, introverts put in the legwork needed to deliver a great speech because they care about the message being delivered, and they want the audience to know it.
- They are detail oriented – Research has shown that introvert’s experience increased brain activity processing visual stimuli when compared to extroverts. This translates to a keen eye that can also see the bigger picture. The real-life Iron Man, Elon Musk used this trait to develop a vehicle that could be pivotal in transitioning us into a sustainable energy economy. Now he spends his time building rockets for space travel, an endeavor that probably requires detail oriented individuals.
- They take calculated risks – Well-known wallflowers Warren Buffet and Bill Gates have steered their companies into successful, multi-billion dollar enterprises. These are men who don’t make a move without thinking it through carefully. And even when their innovations have stumbled, they use the lessons learned from those mistakes to make informed decisions for a better future.
- They understand the power of listening – Susan Cain’s insightful book, “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” addresses this powerful strength. In it she explains this crucial skill as “We have two ears and one mouth and we should use them proportionately.” Introverted leaders like Larry Page understand this principle and show us that smart can be silent. By listening to the needs of his audiences and the input of other professionals, he was able to help build one of the most impressive digital juggernauts today, Google.
- They are intensely passionate – A wise man once said, “You must be the change you want to see in the world” and that great man happened to lead by example. Mahatma Gandhi spread a message of peace throughout the world by starting a quiet movement preaching nonviolent civil disobedience. His passion brought about real change, utilizing what he understood to be his greatest strength, his peaceful introspective nature.
- They value their downtime – While many introverts enjoy spending quality time with their close circle of friends or their family, they also prioritize taking time for themselves. That time is crucial for them to rejuvenate and wrap their minds around the events of the day. This may sound like self-isolation to an extrovert, but to quiet types like Hillary Clinton it’s necessary. Like Hillary, most introverts see their downtime as an opportunity to take off the cloak of the day and recharge.
“We don’t need giant personalities to transform companies. We need leaders who build not their own egos but the institutions they run.”
– Susan Cain
Photo credit: Steve Jurvetson via Flickr