As soon as the session ended, I (one of many proud introverts) politely said good night and made a dash to the elevators to get back to my hotel room. I entered my room, closed and locked my door, sat down and let out a big sigh. Alone at last!
What session am I referring to? Just about any work related training session, business conference or planning offsite when I am surrounded by people all day, and my schedule is planned by others. Why do I do this? Because I am an introvert at heart!
Introverts have gotten a bad rap over the years. They are often depicted as nerdy loners who have very poor interpersonal skills. The best way to think about introverts versus extroverts is that introverts typically recharge through alone time, or being in 1 on 1 situations, and may feel drained of energy after too much stimulation. They are often good listeners and tend to think before they speak or act. Alternatively, extroverts tend to gain their energy by interacting with others in social situations.
One observation I have had while working in Corporate America, is that we have a lot of very talented introverts in both individual contributor and leadership positions all over the world. This makes sense based on the research.
- Introverts are everywhere: Per Susan Cain’s article in the Huffington Post, “The Power Of Introverts”, one-third to one-half of Americans are introverts (and likely higher outside of the U.S.). If you’re not an introvert yourself, you are likely raising, managing, dating or married to one. Jennifer Kahnweiler, book author of “The Introverted Leader: Building On Your Quiet Strength”, reported that a full 40 percent of executives are introverts. I am not sure of the science, but websites such as City Data and Lone Wolf, report that the 10 most introverted countries are Austria, Switzerland, Germany, Denmark, Norway , Netherlands, Singapore, India, Taiwan, and Canada. Alternatively, the top 10 most extroverted countries are reported to be the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Venezuela, Brazil, Spain, Portugal, Philippines, South Africa, Croatia and Costa Rica.
- Headphones are my friend: Introverts long for quiet in a noisy world. I do a lot of business travel and as soon as I sit down on an airplane I pop in my headphones so I can block out the airplane noise, the crying children and friendly banter. Sometimes, I have the headphones in simply to block out noise. Other times, I listen to some of my favorite Podcasts or relaxing music.
- My husband and I belong to a gym that was recently renovated. I was there one day during the construction to exercise and my senses were overloaded. There was music playing, people talking and working out, the smell of paint and glue drying and the sound of banging in the areas that were still under construction. My brain actually hurt while I was trying to work out.
- Calm in the storm: Like many introverts, I tend to stay calm in the midst of crisis situations. True story.. 20+ years ago when I was managing outbound sales at The Boston Globe newspaper, one of the call center supervisors, Janine, came into my office and started throwing things. First went the stapler, then some post it notes and I forget what else. Why did she do this? It was a joke to see if I would react or stay calm. I stayed calm, and she laughed and prodded me to react. For those that know me well, I am not always calm behind closed doors or when driving in my car, but I do pause to gain perspective and the facts, before acting.
- If you are an introvert, you are in very good company. The internet (which we know is always true, LOL) reports that Abraham Lincoln, Eleanor Roosevelt, Christina Aguilera, J.K. Rowling, Bill Gates, Michelle Pfeiffer, Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep, Clint Eastwood, Harrison Ford, Tom Hanks, Johnny Carson, David Letterman, Mark Zuckerberg and Hilary Clinton are all introverts. Note the number of millionaires!
- What happens if you work for an extrovert, but you are an introvert? I am experiencing this situation right now in my day job. Luckily, my boss and I have been working together for several years and she knows I am an introvert and have my special needs. She is more understanding if I opt out of social situations or ask for my quiet time.
There is sometimes a perception that all leaders are extroverts which is why I decided to share some of my personal experiences. In the end, it does not matter if you are extroverted or introverted. Just be yourself! The most successful teams are made up of a variety of styles, backgrounds, interests, cultures and personalities.
Are you an introvert? Do you have any tips to share? Please add them to the comments section.