By Andy Johnson
I devote a major portion of my work to serving introverted leaders; however, it’s not uncommon for people to tell me that the phrase “introverted leaders” is an oxymoron.
The cultural stereotypes in the United States are so strong that people feel quite comfortable making such statements. Though they would never make such statements about differences in gender, ethnicity, or sexual orientation, they feel empowered and comfortable stating this particular bias out loud.
Unfortunately, there is a measured impact of such thinking on introverts in leadership positions in our organizations. There are more introvert leaders than you may think: a few years ago, USA Today reported that 40 percent of CEOs in the U.S. are introverts. When it comes to other C-suite executives, I suspect the percentage is even higher.
Most leaders, introverts and extroverts alike, have been fed a fairly steady diet of extroversion as synonymous with leadership. We have equated leadership with traits such as gregariousness, charisma, optimism, aggressiveness, drive, and competitiveness (a.k.a. extroversion).
To rise to the top, many introverted leaders find themselves abandoning their natural strengths in favor of the desired characteristics of a charismatic leader. The problem is that it’s exhausting to pretend to be someone you are not, day after day, especially for an introvert.
This is where authenticity comes in. It pays, extrinsically speaking, to be authentic. Authenticity is the opposite of shame.
Downside of Denying Introversion
The lie detector, the invention of William Moulton Marston, is based on the fact that people are wired for authenticity. It detects symptoms in the body of lying or inauthenticity, ranging from an elevated pulse to higher blood pressure to increased perspiration.
The point? Lying to ourselves or to others affects the body and has deleterious effects over time. The stress of trying to be someone else is similar. It can be connected to all sorts of negative consequences including higher stress levels, elevated blood pressure, illness, lowered creativity, and disingenuous relationships.
Not only is inauthenticity physically unhealthy, but leaders who misrepresent themselves hurt their organizations as well. When introverts present themselves as extroverts, they are robbing their companies and teams of the innate talents they possess. In addition, they are sending the wrong message that introversion is not okay.
How Introverts Can Practice Authenticity
By practicing authenticity, introverted leaders in an extroverted world can begin to take their authenticity back. It begins with education. When we expose the cultural myths and stereotypes about introversion, we can begin to change the view of introverted leaders.
Here are four ways for an introvert to practice authenticity at work:
1. Counter myths with accurate information. So many of the myths contained in popular stereotypes are based on grossly inaccurate information. Introverted leaders should educate themselves about the physiological realities of introversion. They can identify natural strengths, and look to great historical leaders who were introverted as examples.
2. Stop faking it. One of the hardest but most rewarding actions introverted leaders can take is to resist the urge to conform to the extroverted stereotypes around them. Knowing that faking it is costly to health and well-being, introverts must stop the charade and refuse to be forced into an extroverted mold.
3. Be comfortable in your skin. The more introverts allow their introversion to show, the more comfortable they will be seeing themselves as introverts. By understanding the strengths and limitations that come with introversion, they can explain how leading is different for them, as well as stop allowing more outgoing leaders make them feel inadequate.
4. Celebrate authenticity. The truth about who introverted leaders are, as well as their natural leadership gifts and strengths, will emerge as they move toward authenticity. Companies will benefit from their increased confidence and creativity, and the people they manage will benefit from their increased transparency and honesty. The leaders themselves will benefit from improved health, reduced levels of stress, and ever-increasing levels of authenticity.