What kind of a work environment brings out the best from an introvert disguised as an extrovert?

By Merita Mattila
08.05.2017
Business & leadership, HR innovation,

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The titular introvert disguised as an extrovert was coined by my esteemed ex-colleague, with whom I shared many talks about introversion. The modesty of an introvert has its pros and cons: you can seldom make up for the lack of robust expertise with talk alone. A functional organisation needs both introverts and extroverts, and a good leader inspires both personality types to flourish.

Being an introvert or an extrovert is a big part of your identity. In the Western culture, we consider extroversion to be the golden standard: we’re all supposed to be outgoing and talkative. On the other hand, we often see introverts as shy, perhaps even as an exception to the norm.

The reclusive introvert doesn’t match the modern view of the perfect leader or manager. We’re prone to interpreting a quiet, pensive employee as being indifferent, because we often confuse the most visible employees with the most efficient ones.

On the other hand, introverts are said to be decisive and focused. These are without doubt indispensable attributes in all organisations – and on all organisational levels. In other words, introversion doesn’t mean you lack ambition or passion.

What kind of a work environment allows an introvert to prosper?

The introvert loves to work on their own, without being distracted by what the extrovert calls social interaction. The performance-oriented introvert needs to be able to fully concentrate on the task at hand. Clear deadlines also facilitate their work, because for the introvert, success equals sticking to the agreed schedule or even staying ahead of it.

The introvert doesn’t necessarily feel at home in the office break room or in a meeting babbling on about things, when they feel that they have real work to do. Thus, it’s necessary to support an introvert’s independence and commitment by arranging organised and efficient meetings.

Even the introvert can be social – when he or she feels like it. So the titular introvert disguised as an extrovert is quite an apt description.

There are many introverts that are from time to time just as chatty and social as their extrovert counterparts, but to balance things out, they also need time alone. Whereas the extrovert gets a boost of energy from being around other people, socialising and being the centre of attention takes its toll on the introvert.

It’s a good idea to take this into consideration when designing work spaces, tasks and teams. Introverts are at most comfortable and productive when they can easily retreat and work in their own peace and quiet.

Can an introvert be a leader?

Introverts, extroverts, and everything in between can be found in every company, on every organisational level. There is no evidence that the introvert is any worse or better as a leader than anybody else. According to studies, introversion is as much an asset as extroversion, even for a leader.

The introvert’s strengths include commitment, ambition, motivation, creativity and passion. These come in handy much more often than excessive sociability. An introverted leader typically inspires their employees with their own hard work and tenacity rather than with awe-inspiring speeches.

When it comes to delegating responsibilities, however, the introvert may be in need of guidance. Since the introvert always aspires for perfection, as a leader they usually like to take care of things themselves rather than tell others what to do. Exemplary, but not always efficient, when viewed from the perspective of the entire organisation.

The introvert can absolutely be a fantastic leader. Let’s consider such historical figures as Martin Luther King or Mahatma Gandhi. Both were introverts – and rather successful leaders.

Author

Merita Mattila
PhD in organisational values and ethics

Merita Mattila has a PhD in organisational values and ethics from the University on Lappeenranta, Finland. For the past eight years, she has lived in Ghana, West Africa, working as a professor in local university and leader of a local philanthropy.
Merita Mattila
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