Leadership: the power of introverts - from hero to host.
There is a long continuum of personality traits. Introversion and extraversion are just two categories situated at the extreme ends of this continuum. There is also a middle ground, which is commonly referred to as “ambivert.” This concept was popularised by Carl Jung who was a Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who founded analytical psychology in the early 20th century.
We are all on this continuum and, as leaders, we can all display behaviours across this spectrum. A lot has been written over the last few decades on the bias towards extravert behaviour in all aspects of society. Susan Cain's TED talk "The Power of Introverts" https://youtu.be/c0KYU2j0TM4 and in her book, "The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking" describes her own experiences as an introvert in an extravert world. While appreciating the value of extravert behaviour, Cain focusses upon the need for introvert behaviours to be more valued in an increasingly complex and ever changing world. She emphasises the qualities that introversion bring to organisations and society at large.
Of course there is no simple definition of introversion but if one had to name a common characteristic it would that introverts have a rich inner life. They value gathering information and data, and often they develop the abilities and the motivation to critically analyse and reflect on the data they gather. They use reflective practice to ensure that they learn from their experiences and seek to change their behaviours and practices from their learning.
Anna Emanuelsson and Sandra Lindqvist (2014) developed a model for introverted leadership. They cited the key traits of introverted leadership as engaged listening, focussed attention, deep listening and structured and methodical working. The behaviours and style of introverted leaders included preferences to be analytical, and reflective, to create and share knowledge and to be participative and empowering through consulting, informing and supporting.
In their influential paper, "Leadership in the Age of Complexity - From Hero to Host."
Margaret Wheatley with Debbie Frieze describe how the role of leadership has changed from "heroes" who are all knowing, make all the decisions, have all the power and occupy centralised hierarchical leadership positions to "hosts." Hosts are curious for knowledge. they are interested in who can be invited to work as contributors. What insights they may have and their perspective on the world. indeed, they demonstrate the key characteristics of introverted leadership. Wheatley and Frieze state that "Hosting Leaders demonstrate the following behaviours;
• provide conditions and group processes for people to work together.
• provide resources of time, the scarcest commodity of all.
• insist that people and the system learn from experience.
• offer unequivocal support.
• reflect back to people on a regular basis how they’re doing, what they’re
accomplishing and how far they’ve journeyed.
• work with people to develop relevant measures of progress to make their
achievements visible and valued.
Emanuelsson and Lindqvist conclude their paper with the following statements;
"One conclusion that can be drawn from the results obtained in this study is that the common perception that a leader needs to possess extroverted traits as well as charisma in order to be successful needs to be revised. Introvert traits can be as powerful as extroverted traits; the objectives will only be reached in different ways."
The outcome of the study suggests that introverted traits can be used in a very successful way in order to build a strong leadership and that introvert managers exist.
They suggest that introverted leaders use their listening skills, structured way of working and ability to stay focused as powerful tools when it comes to influencing others, conflict handling, decision making, critical analysis and strategic thinking as well as bringing clarity and calm to both subordinates and organisations. Also, the results indicate that the introvert leaders continually seek to improve themselves and their leadership and take on more extrovert traits when needed.
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