5 Misconceptions About Introverts
Introverts and extroverts have been measured against each other since the 1920s when a Swiss psychiatrist named Carl Jung coined these infamous terms. Still, to this day, there are many misconceptions around introverts — that they’re shy, insecure, and don’t do well in groups — and biases toward extroverted managers who are thought to be stronger leaders.
Not surprisingly, there isn’t a conclusive definition for the word introvert. In psychology, introversion refers to how one draws energy, which is implied by the Latin root intro- meaning “inward” and vertere meaning “turning.” In other words, if an introvert is simply someone who directs his attention inward (not a bad trait for complex work) then it’s worth examining a few common misconceptions that paint a gloomy picture of this mindful bunch.
#1: Introverts are shy / are poor communicators
People generally think that introverts don’t communicate well when actually they just respond to stimuli differently than extroverts. Introverts feel more content with minimal outside stimulation (i.e. intimate conversations or solo activities) compared to extroverts who are energized by stimulation and seek it in social situations (i.e. going to parties and participating in group activities). But this doesn’t mean that they’re shy or don’t equally enjoy being social— they just typically prefer taking breaks to recharge.
#2: Leaders can’t be introverts
Being the loudest person in the room doesn’t make you the leader.* In fact, a 2017 study published in the Harvard Business Review assessed the performance of over 900 CEOs and found that more than half who did better in the eyes of investors and directors were introverts. Further studies show that while highly extroverted people are 25% more likely to land top jobs, particularly confident CEOs were no more likely to perform better once they got the job.
(*Around 65% of senior executives view introversion as a “barrier to leadership.” Do they know that Bill Gates, Marissa Mayer, Elon Musk, Barack Obama — even Abe Lincoln — are all introverts?)
#3: Introverts aren’t true team players
Introverts don’t thrive when asked to participate in large meetings or brainstorming sessions. Instead, they prefer to work alone and then share what they’ve accomplished. But this doesn’t mean that introverts don’t contribute to the success of their team — they just have a different way of doing it. Since introverts are avid listeners, they can often capture information that extroverts might overlook. So when they speak, they garner more attention and appreciation from their audience and gain the respect of their seniors.
Furthermore, introverts are great at reading a room and empathizing with others. As a result, it’s easier for them to foster meaningful relationships with their clients and teammates.
#4: Extroverts are more successful
“Successful” can mean many different things. For example, introverts have the edge amongst the richest people in the world. But who makes the most money at work? Extroverts. What about the most successful CEOs? Those tend to be introverts. But who gets promoted more often at work? Extroverts, again.
Extroverts excel in corporate settings because of superior social skills that help them form connections and climb the social ladder more effortlessly than introverts. But introverts have the unique ability to focus for long stretches and distill concepts through critical thinking. They’re also adept at delegating and leading from a place of mindfulness, which makes them excellent entrepreneurs, founders, and business leaders.
#5: Introverts and extroverts can’t get along
It’s true that introverts and extroverts are wired differently— but that’s not the challenge. Without an appreciation of each other’s innate skills and personality traits, both parties can feel misunderstood. The good news is that introverts and extroverts not only work effectively together, but they can also learn a great deal from each other. If you’re an extrovert, working with someone who has a more introverted personality can stretch your own opposite side and raise the potential for creativity.
The final takeaway
A truly successful leader shows traits of an introvert and an extrovert. So it’s likely that you possess some of both too.
But be careful not to strictly label yourself as one or the other, especially in team settings: You might miss out on key opportunities to grow as a leader.