Do you have to be an extrovert to be a leader? Jack Welch, famed former CEO of General Electric, once said to be a CEO, you must be an extrovert.
True confession: I’m an introvert. I love the company of a good book a lot more than a night out and I crave my moments of solitude. Yet somehow I’ve built a company of 400-plus terrific Team Members. One explanation is that I’m a personal introvert but a business extrovert. But that is probably an oversimplification.
Extroverts have been defined as people who are energized by social interaction whereas for introverts socializing requires expending energy. Quiet time energizes introverts. There are many times when I simply do not feel like “stepping onto the stage.”
Yet by and large I do step onto the stage, even when I do not feel like it. I have a goal I am deeply invested in, leading a customer-centric company that is world class in its field, and I am fully committed to doing whatever that requires. Stepping out of my comfort zone is the least I can do to fulfill my obligation to the team. Also, I’ve always been concerned that my shyness could be misunderstood as aloofness or even arrogance. The good news is that nine times out of ten, once I’m up there, over the hump so to speak, I am fine and often actually enjoy myself.
So, yes, an introvert can be a leader. You just have to work harder at it, develop other strengths, perhaps even learn how to release your inner extrovert. We all have multi-faceted personalities and all introverts have certain types of situations where they feel more comfortable than others. Grow in self-awareness, learn to recognize where your best self comes out, and consciously do your best to direct things toward those situations.
For me, one area is a love of teaching and mentoring. I really enjoy helping people learn grow and so arrange to maximize my leadership opportunities in those areas. I’m also fine one-on-one or with people I know well. It’s groups of strangers that trigger my introversion,
small talk with people I’ll never see again, 3-hour dinners, speeches or cocktail parties that go on and on. I also have a bit of face blindness so that doesn’t help.
“I’m an introvert… I love being by myself, love being outdoors, love taking a long walk with my dogs and looking at the trees, flowers, the sky.” — Audrey Hepburn; 1929–1993, American and British actress, often recognized for her role as Holly Golightly in “Breakfast at Tiffanys”
“I’m an introvert at heart… And show business—even though I’ve loved it so much—has always been hard for me.” — Roy Rogers; 1911–1998, American singer and cowboy actor, and namesake of the Roy Rogers restaurants
“I was introverted, shy. But if you win a lot you need to be extroverted, or they’ll think you’re arrogant.” — Alberto Tomba; 1966–, is a former Italian World Cup alpine ski racer. He was the dominant technical skier in the late 1980s and 1990s. Tomba won three Olympic gold medals, two World Championships, and nine World Cup season titles. He was popularly called Tomba la Bomba (“Tomba the Bomb”)