Harnessing the power of introverts

Introverts are a hot topic at the moment. Many argue the rise of the internet and social media have empowered a new generation of introverted people to transform the way they operate and succeed in business like they never have before. Others argue the introverts have always been successful, it’s just – unsurprisingly – they didn’t shout about it.

The reality is that introverts are creative and valuable employees and can also be some of the best business leaders out there.

This was the topic of debate when I recently spoke at an event for the Association for Innovation, Research and Technology Organisations (AIRTO) and then shared my thoughts on how every business can harness the power of introverts and make use of the unique skills they have.

What is an introvert?
Too many people mistakenly believe that introverts are shy and retiring while extroverts are loud and showy. The truth is that both can show both behaviours and the only difference is that introverts need time alone to recharge their batteries while extroverts need time with people to do the same.

The AIRTO event was a great place to explore the power of introverts as the technology sector typically attracts introverts. I’ve done a fair amount of research around the Myers Briggs personality types – which identifies whether people have introverted or extroverted tendencies – and also read some fantastic books on the subject. Paul Glen’s “Leading Geeks” and Susan Cain’s “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” are both best-selling explorations of this very subject.

Introverts are reflective thinkers and they prefer to develop ideas on their own before joining a collaborative environment. They also sometimes talk a different type of language because they naturally become highly specialised in key areas.

They are fuelled by a curiosity that takes them into a lot of depths that many extroverts wouldn’t consider.  It’s these original thinking traits that draw them to STEM as their strengths play to the technical sector.

Why are introverts useful for businesses?
We’ve seen a real shift in recent years for companies that are actively recruiting introverts. This is purely based on the theory that they are great individual thinkers.

Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak famously said: “The best ideas are never designed by committees.” Now, Wozniak, is a stereotypical introvert and may be biased but the evidence does suggest that introverts are capable of creating unique original ideas.

At the AIRTO event I asked people to class themselves as introverts or extroverts. The extroverts were put into groups to develop ideas while the introverts were left to develop ideas on their own.

The result? The introverts’ work was much more specific and they generated more ideas. Possibly because the group of extroverts had generalised or deleted their ideas.

Do introverts make good business leaders?
Introverts are arguably the best leaders in business. Typically, introverts have a greater ability to listen to others and they are also more inclined to nurture, coach and develop the people that work for them.

Crucially, it’s their ability to actually listen to what people have to say and then develop their own ideas and solutions to tackle any challenge that faces them and their team.

All of these qualities are highly sought after by management teams as they bring out the best in people. But, how many management teams actually start by thinking they need introverts?

How can introverts help businesses?
At the AIRTO event, one of the most interesting things was that we talked about introverts as if they were someone else. However, when I asked for people to identify themselves as introverts or extroverts, the room was split 50:50.

There is a lot of history that appears to exclude people with introverted tendencies. These tendencies were portrayed as weak and with little value to business leadership. This was never true.

What we are seeing now is a major shift towards recognising not only the strengths of introverts, but the strengths of all the different types of leadership.

Yes, introverts are a powerful asset for many businesses, but the most important thing to recognise is that different workplaces need different types of leadership and each personality type has clear strengths in the different roles our modern businesses need.

Do you identify as an introvert or extrovert? What do you see as the key strengths to business of these unique personality types?