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What business leaders can learn from introverts

DFK Crosbie Team Newcastle
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In our early days we lived in what historians call a culture of character, where we valued people for their inner selves and their moral integrity. Then we hit the 20th century and we evolved from an agricultural economy to a world of big business. Suddenly people are moving from small towns to the cities and instead of working alongside people they’ve known all their lives, now they are having to stand out in a crowd of strangers. So qualities like magnetism and charisma suddenly come to seem really important and extroverts shine.

Introverts are not shy, shyness is about fear of social judgment. Introversion is more about how you respond to stimulation, including social stimulation. Extroverts typically crave large amounts of stimulation, whereas introverts feel at their most capable when they’re in quieter, more low-key environments. Not all the time — these things aren’t absolute — but a lot of the time.

A third to half of the population are introverts. So if you’re the extrovert yourself, it may be your co-workers, your spouses, your children or the person sitting next to you right now.

When it comes to creativity and leadership, we need introverts doing what they do best. The key to maximising talents is for us all to put ourselves in the zone of stimulation that is right for us. However, most important institutions including workplaces, are designed mostly for extroverts and the extroverts’ need for lots of stimulation, these workplaces often have open plan offices and team rooms. 

Interesting research by Adam Grant at the Wharton Business School found that introverted leaders deliver better outcomes when they are managing proactive employees because they’re much more likely to let those employees run with their ideas, whereas an extrovert can, quite unwittingly, get so excited about things that they’re putting their own stamp on things, and other people’s ideas might not as easily then bubble up to the surface.

It is beneficial therefore to have a better balance between these two types, extrovert and introvert. This is especially important when it comes to creativity and to productivity, when psychologists look at the lives of the most creative people, what they find are people who are very good at exchanging ideas and advancing ideas, but who also have a serious streak of introversion in them. Solitude is a crucial ingredient often to creativity. Charles Darwin took long walks alone in the woods and emphatically turned down dinner-party invitations. Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, dreamed up many of his amazing creations in a lonely bell tower office that he had in the back of his house. Steve Wozniak invented the first Apple computer sitting alone in his cubicle in Hewlett-Packard. And he says that he never would have become such an expert in the first place had he not been too introverted to leave the house when he was growing up. Now, of course, this does not mean that we should all stop collaborating. The problems that we are facing today in fields like science and in economics are so vast and so complex that we are going to need armies of people coming together to solve them working together, case in point, is Steve Wozniak famously coming together with Steve Jobs to start Apple Computer — but it does mean that solitude matters and that for some people it is the air that they breathe.

As a business leader, manager or business owner what can you do?

Be aware of the differences in your team members and leave everybody to go off by themselves, generate their own ideas free from the distortions of group dynamics, and then come together as a team to talk them through in a well-managed environment and take it from there.

Introverts have the impulse to guard very carefully what’s inside, but occasionally they need to open up for other people to see.

So if you are a manager or business owner, take a look at your team and see how they work, you may just pick up on the way they work better…as an introvert or an extrovert.

By Joshua Drake, Partner of Crosbie Wealth Management. This blog was inspired by Susan Cain talking about ‘The Power of Introverts’.

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