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The Value of Introverts in the Office

In business we cling to many myths that can steer us in the wrong direction….

  • January 20, 2020

In business we cling to many myths that can steer us in the wrong direction. One such myth that to be a good leader, you have to be an Extravert.

A research team from professional development assessment specialist The Myers-Briggs Company dove into decades worth of data to uncover some surprising insights about Introverts in leadership around the globe.

Introverted Types are the Majority, But Not in the Top Brass

From the recent Myers-Briggs global research sample, about 56.8% of us prefer Introversion, while 43.2% prefer Extraversion. Even though there are significantly more people with this preference, Introverts are vastly underrepresented in top leadership.

In the US, only 39% of top executives and senior leaders prefer Introversion.

This trend is even more pronounced in the UK, where 28% of top executives and senior leaders prefer Introversion and 9 out of 10 of people report feeling pressure to behave in an extraverted way.

And the UK isn’t even the country where leaders with Introversion preferences are the most underrepresented: in Finland only 23% of leaders prefer Introversion. Notably, Sweden has only 30, Turkey only 28%, and Peru only 29%.

A handful of countries are more evenly split. In Zambia and Singapore, 53% of top executives and senior leaders prefer introversion, followed by Malaysia at 51%, and Russia at 48%.

But Extraversion and Introversion aren’t the only preferences where leadership types are uneven.

More than two-thirds of those in leadership positions have Myers-Briggs preferences for Thinking, meaning they make decisions based on impersonal criteria.

On the other hand, 57-84% of women have the opposite Myers-Briggs preference for Feeling, meaning they make decisions based on individual values and an understanding of how people are affected.

This means with women representing only 24% of organizational leadership globally, an entire perspective on decision-making is largely missing.

How Leaders Can Unleash the Power of Introversion

All leaders want to unlock their team’s full potential, and the approach to unlock potential in both introverted leaders and introverted team members is different than for extraverts. Here are a few tips that can help:

Give introverts adequate time to prepare for meetings. Send out a detailed agenda ahead of time with clear expectations.

Those with a preference for Extraversion may enjoy thinking on the spot and sharing their ideas in the moment, but those with a preference for Introversion will do their best work with time to prepare.

When an Introversion-preferring team member makes a suggestion, listen. They’re usually not just voicing what’s popped into their mind and have likely spent a long time thinking about it.

And by all means, avoid interrupting them–you may not get a second chance to hear their insight.

Count to ten. If you’re leading a team with Introversion-preferring members, you might be greeted by silence when you ask a question.

Count to ten (at least) before you jump in and clarify your question. It may not be that the team doesn’t understand you, some people may just be thinking through an answer.

Use a range of communication formats when you put out an important message. While extraverts may enjoy the buzz of large group presentations and meetings, people with a preference for Introversion often prefer written communication or one-to-one meetings.

Allow for “me time”. Those preferring Introversion may need time alone to recharge their batteries, particularly after meetings (and if you’re a leader with an Introversion preference, be sure to afford yourself the same courtesy).