I’m a dyed-in-the-wool introvert. I’ve often described myself as the person at a neighborhood dinner party that prefers to spend the evening with the family dog. But I’m also an entrepreneur. I enjoy building businesses from the ground up. I love the pace, the excitement and the decision making required to make a start-up successful.
I’ve often thought I was an odd duck that could be both an introvert and a business owner, but the two are not at loggerheads anymore. As I look around, I see Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Elon Musk, and Larry Page at Google as prime examples of very successful entrepreneurs that are self-described introverts. While I obviously do not share the same rarefied air as those wildly successful business people, I believe there is a tectonic shift in the business framework, and introverts are coming out from behind the computer monitor and into the board room. And I think the business landscape is much better for it.
Empirically (based on the examples listed above), technology appears to have a huge degree of influence on the rise of introverts in the corporate world. Interaction for the introvert can now be done via email and IM, lessening the need to interact face-to-face. While I’m not advocating that these types of communications are preferred, I merely point out they make obsolete a strength of an extrovert; personal interaction.
But that is only one reason of the rise of the introvert in the corporate world. Studies have shown that there are many aspects of being an introvert that translate positively to being an entrepreneur and business leader.
Startups have chaos inherent in any business startup. “Can we make payroll? Did the servers we need for the project arrive? We are out of Diet Coke again!” are examples of the dramatic world of a startup company. As conflict and drama are anathema to the introvert, we exhibit thoughtful approaches to most stressful situations. I’m not saying that extroverts are incapable of the same responses, only that it is part of the introvert personality. Studies have shown that extroverts are prone to making rash decisions. The same studies suggest that introverts will tend to make the most informed decisions they can given the circumstances. I personally can say I have made many wrong decisions in the 10 years of my company’s existence. But I can also say during that same time frame there are no decisions I regret.
Another area that an introvert entrepreneur excels is adaptability. Recognizing that as a business grows change is required to accommodate shifts in company strategy or plans. Some of these changes can be very traumatic and adversely impact many coworkers. Extroverts tend to view staff in terms of their relationships to each other. While this is definitely not a terrible way to think, it may run counter to business needs. Introverts think about the company as a whole, and will make drastic changes to ensure company survival and growth. Introverts tend to see the long term needs than focus on short term solutions.
Another potential strong point for an introvert leader in business is that we recognize our weaknesses in dealing with people. Studies have proven that introverts are far more likely to hire people with skills that introverts lack and then stay out of the way to do their jobs. Then introverts are more likely to give credit to these hires rather than take it for themselves. For introverts, if the company is successful, then the introvert leader has succeeded as well.
In fact, a recent Harvard Business Review study indicates that the only area that extrovert business leaders excel compared to introverts is getting hired in the first place. Extrovert personalities resonate with company board members and shareholders, who see their interpersonal skills as “leadership”. However the same study data also indicates that extroverts are not any more successful in guiding companies. In fact, they are worse.
In today’s highly charged business environment, it is important to realize that the most important harbinger of company success is making decisions to support company survival and promoting growth.