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Changing the Introvert/Extrovert Paradigm.

Updated: Dec 2, 2022

When I was a student, I raised my hand often, volunteered for extra tasks, was happy to provide direction for a team, or try out for opportunities that put me front and center. I am the one in the Zoom call that needs to fill the air with coffee talk prior to the beginning of the meeting. I am an extrovert. Our culture favors extroverts. We are typically more comfortable when our child is gregarious and surrounded with groups of friends, then when they prefer alone time and a few closer relationships. As students get older, they are pushed to join more activities, take on leadership roles, so they can remain competitive with their peers, and, often, this push organically suits the disposition of the extrovert. Media (social and otherwise) reinforces this dichotomy that it is somehow better to be an extrovert. This favoritism is doing a disservice to both our introverts and our extroverts..

By the time a child has graduated high school, many introverts see the word "lead" and its derivatives as belonging to the word of the extrovert." They may not really enjoy leading a team. Meanwhile, extroverts often misstakenly think that just because they have been in charge or held a positional title that they are leaders. This introvert/extrovert leadership paradigm is one of the most significant barriers for young professionals looking to really use their talents well.

One of the issues for both introverts and extroverts is they look at people with leadership styles they admire and assume they are extroverts. I love when someone comes into our teamwork class to be interviewed who is incredibly successful and confident, and the students find out that the person who appears extroverted is actually an introvert. Leadership is about confidence, empathy, trust, vision, effective communication, integrity, vulnerability, adaptability, decision making; it is not about where you get your energy (from being alone or from being with people - this is really what distinguishes an introvert from an extrovert, and has nothing to do with your ability to exert leadership). Here are a few introverts that you might have assumed were extroverts: Barack Obama, Michael Jordan, Hillary Clinton, Tiger Woods, Steve Martin

This distinction, as you can clearly see, has nothing to do with your ability to exhibit leadership. Introverts - you are a powerful and an indispensable resource for any team. Introverts observe. Introverts plan. Introverts have a proclivity towards creativity. Introverts tend to create stronger connections (even if it may be to fewer people). They tend to be curious, empathetic, and loyal. In other words, introverts are more likely to observe when something isn't working correctly, and they can plan a path forward. They can notice when a teammate is getting frustrated or feeling not included and can reach to those folks to help. Introverts can see solutions that are not right in front of you, but are hanging out in the margins. Consider probably the most highly acclaimed actress of our time, Meryl Streep. Streep is an introvert and is a natural homebody, but gets one of her greatest strengths as an actress from her natural ability to observe human beings, ask deep questions and grow in empathy with others.

The issue on teams is that often the introvert thinks they need to defer to the extrovert, and unfortunately, the extrovert may believe the same. So, six people enter a room to complete a task together. In ten minutes, it is rather clear who are the extroverts and introverts. The extroverts think it is my job to help these introverts by leading this group. What does it mean to lead though? Does it mean that the extroverts' ideas are bounced around, and the introverts, who often need a few extra minutes to process ideas before they can share, never get heard? Does it mean that the extrovert does all the tasks they want to do, and assigns the rest to the introverts leaving the introverts' great skills underutilized?

So what needs to be done: It is two-fold. Introverts recognize your value! You are second to no one. Extroverts - being comfortable being the first voice in the room comes with an obligation - to lift up other voices!! The power of an extroverted leader should be investing in understanding your teammates and their strengths, providing room for their voices, utilizing their power of empathy, planning, and creativity to make the team better. Unfortunately, for too long many introverts walk up to the car and immediately go to get into the backseat. Extroverts fight over the driver and front passenger seat. This is not using the full resources of team. Any good leader wants to use all of their resources and ensure everyone feels needed, important, seen, and motivated. All teams work better when diversity of perspectives and talents are fully embraced. Good leaders create other leaders. So, to the extroverts out there, have you created other leaders? If not, ask yourself why? It is not enough to simply get in the backseat, open the front driver side for an introvert. Introverts - it is time to understand you belong behind the wheel.

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