Since the publication of Quiet by Susan Cain a few years ago, it seems the understanding of introverted individuals has undergone something of a transformation. It’s no longer seen as a kind of disease but a perfectly valid thing for someone to be.
Alongside this shift in thinking has been the publication of a number of studies looking at how introverts behave in the workplace. For instance, one found that extroverted employees were regularly rated as amongst the worst performers by their introverted colleagues. What’s more, they were also found to be less likely to give them any credit for the work they did, nor recommend them for promotion.
“The magnitude with which introverts underrated performance of extroverts was surprising,” the researchers say. “The results were very consistent across both studies.”
A second study examines how introverts respond to leadership responsibility. It found that introverted professionals would reveal high levels of worry and distress when placed into leadership situations.
Previous research has found that introverts tend to occupy fewer management roles than extraverts, especially when selection is done via more traditional methods.
The researchers wanted to explore this in more depth. Having first gauged the extraversion levels of each participant, they asked them to participate in group activities, prior to which each person was asked how they expected to feel during the activity.
As you might expect, the introverts in the group dreaded the group activity, and this became self-fulfilling, with those participants failing to act in a manner we come to expect from a leader. This was reflected in a general sense of disquiet about leadership in general.
So what can be done? After all, it’s madness to rule 50% of the workforce out of leadership roles on account of their introversion. Studies have also found that introverts can make better leaders, especially of proactive teams. Introverted leaders are also more likely to display ‘servant leadership’ qualities than their extraverted peers.
The original study found that the introverts who forecast similar emotions to that of their extraverted peers were just as likely to emerge as leaders in the task, which suggests that organizations could work to prime introverts into believing that leadership is an enjoyable activity.
A greater degree of confidence and optimism in regards to leadership could do wonders in helping more introverted people emerge as leaders, which seems certain to improve the way our organizations are led and managed.