When I was younger, I thought it was important to be successful. So I worked hard to make sure that it happened. I did well in school, engaged in multiple social and service-oriented organizations, and I tried really, really hard not to seem like an introvert.
I’ve always known I was an introvert. I was the kid who told her mom to make up a reason I couldn’t go to a friends house so I could stay home and finish reading Little Women instead. I seriously thought I was going crazy during my first year in college until I figured out that this was because I was not allowing myself any alone time, ever. But even though I knew this, I had this idea that being an introvert was a bad thing, and if I wanted to be a successful leader someday, I would have to overcome it.
Then one day I discovered the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, a questionnaire designed to measure psychological preferences in how people perceive the world and make decisions. I obsessively started reading about personality psychology, extroversion and introversion, and specifically my personality type, INFJ. I started realizing that being an introvert wasn’t a curse, and it could actually be a strength if I accepted it as part of who I am and stopped pretending to be someone I wasn’t.
Several successful leaders of the past and present have been and are introverts. Bill Gates, J.K. Rowling, Eleanore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln, to name a few. But great leadership has nothing to do with extroversion or introversion (although I think some of the extroverted leaders in my first post-college job in marketing and sales would tell you otherwise — I ran out of fingers to count the number of times they told me how much potential they saw in me, if only I would talk more).
However, there are several qualities that introverts share, that if utilized in their professional life, can help them excel as leaders.
1. They embrace alone time. It’s pretty much a given to anyone who understands introversion and extroversion that introverts need time alone. Not only does this recharge our social batteries, but it is often when we do our best thinking, planning, strategizing and creative work. Just as extroverts may thrive in a big brainstorming session with others, introverts thrive in solitude. This quality actually makes introverts a great and necessary part of a team, because we often recognize initial ideas as more than what they are, and we like to spend a lot of time on our own working out how to make them even better.
2. They are always prepared. Because introverts typically dread things like big client meetings, special events, or giving speeches, we always make sure that we are more than a little prepared for those situations. I have worked with several extroverts who have more of a go-with-the-flow approach, which often works great for them, but occasionally a question or comment came up that caught them off-guard, and then the introverted young employee in the corner (i.e., me) would shuffle through her notes and help them with the answer. This quality serves as a great leadership skill for introverts as well.
3. They are often great diplomats. Because many introverts have experienced situations in which they felt unseen and unheard, they try to make sure that others don’t feel that way. Especially in leadership roles, introverts make it a priority to ensure that everyone on their team has a voice, and they often recognize qualities in their team members that others might not.
4. They are incredibly knowledgeable. No, I do not believe that all introverts are smarter than all extroverts. But introverts who thrive in leadership roles do so based less on charm and charisma and based more on their high mental and/or emotional intelligence. It’s not like introverts spend all that alone time just staring at the wall. Truly successful introverts spend it reading, studying, and thinking of ways to improve their craft, which makes them a great source of information and guidance for other employees.
As an introvert, what qualities do you have that help you to succeed in your career?
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