One is going to read a political message into Elizabeth Bernstein’s column about introverts and extroverts, but we will stipulate that she did not intend it.
We all imagine, Bernstein says, that great leaders are extroverts. We are attracted to leaders who huff and puff, who bluster and bloviate, who are not afraid to offend, who speak their mind without giving things very much thought.
If that is what we think, we are wrong.
Great entrepreneurs, even great business leaders, Bernstein suggests, are more likely to be introverts.
A quiet, reserved introvert is probably not what first came to mind. Aren’t entrepreneurs supposed to be gregarious and commanding—verbally adept and able to inspire employees, clients and investors with the sheer force of their personality? No wonder the advice for introverts who want to be entrepreneurs has long been some form of: “Be more extroverted.”
Now, though, business experts and psychologists are starting to see that guidance is wrong. It disregards the unique skills that introverts bring to the table—the ability to focus for long periods, a propensity for balanced and critical thinking, a knack for quietly empowering others—that may make them even better suited for entrepreneurial and business success than extroverts.
An introvert has more balanced judgment. He does not speak first and think next. And he does much better at delegating authority.
Among great introverted business leaders we find:
Indeed, numerous entrepreneurs and CEOs are either self-admitted introverts or have so many introvert qualities that they are widely thought to be introverts. These include Bill Gates, co-founder ofMicrosoft, Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple, Larry Page, co-founder of Google, Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder of Facebook, Marissa Mayer, current president and CEO of Yahoo, and Warren Buffett, chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway.
And, introverts are less inclined to be demagogic. They do not foment a cult to their personality. Their sentences very rarely contain first person pronouns.
With extroverts, it’s all about first person pronouns, as in: I am the best; I can do it; I will do it; nothing can stop me. One what grounds does an extrovert claim mastery over a job for which he has no relevant experience: the depth of his conviction in his own greatness, coupled with his boundless contempt for all those who have real qualifications for the job.
Introverts do not try to be larger than life:
Another big plus, she says: Introverts are not interested in leadership for personal glory, and they steer clear of the cult of personality. Their emphasis is on creating something, not on themselves.
Introverts look before they leap, only speak when they have something to say and are willing to put other people in the spotlight.
Extroverts talk—a lot. And in all that talking, they sometimes forget to let others get a word in, a trait that can be particularly damaging to their relationships with customers or clients. “They can have this idea that they have the gift of gab, so they can make assumptions and tell their customers what they need, instead of coming in and asking the customer,” says Ms. Buelow.
Introverts don’t have this problem—they wait to speak until they have something to say. Not because they’re shy and socially inept, says Ms. Buelow, but because they are thinking and processing.
As a result, introverts are excellent listeners, observers and synthesizers, she says. “They can make unexpected connections because they’re more focused on information input than output. And they’re often good at connecting disparate dots.” Extroverts take in information and spit it right back out, forming an opinion quickly, Ms. Buelow says, while “introverts take it in, process it and turn it around. They can sit with those dots long enough to see where the connection is.”
Extroverts are oriented to seek the positive—to loudly promote what they’re working on and rally their cheerleaders behind them. But that may lead them to overlook the realities of a situation. Introverts tend to be more critical, Dr. Helgoe says. As a result, they are more realistic when it comes to weighing feedback and analyzing information.
Reading Bernstein’s column, one cannot help but think about a certain extroverted presidential candidate, a man who loudly promotes himself at every opportunity, who flings insults and innuendo at his opponents (and at people who are not his opponents), who does not care whether his views correspond to the facts or whether they would make good policy.
This extroverted candidate, who shall go unnamed today, was talking to Bill O’Reilly last night. It was one extrovert confronting another extrovert. The candidate was saying that the stock market meltdown was China’s fault, and that he would out-negotiate the Chinese and bring jobs back to America. He was saying that the leaders of China are geniuses, though today's Chinese markets seem to be telling a slightly different story.
Dare we say, as we have said before, that the jobs are not coming back, but, be that as it may, O’Reilly asked how he was going to do it. The extrovert replied: by slapping a tariff on all Chinese goods coming into the country. To which O’Reilly replied: you want to start a trade war. One understands, from elementary economics, that trade wars are bad for everyone. Apparently, the extrovert missed the class where they were discussed.
One suspects that the extrovert had not given the matter very much thought. He did not think through how the public react to a massive price increase in all goods sold at Walmart. He assumed that the Chinese would just cave in to the force of his personality. And he had not thought through what would happen if the Chinese decided to raise tariffs on American goods coming into China. How good would that be for American manufacturing?
The extrovert is so completely confident that he believes that the world to fall at his feet and to give him what he wants. After all, he has always gotten his way. He does not know how not to get his way. Given his level of public bluster, you know and I know that foreign leaders cannot possibly negotiate with him. The Mexican government has already rejected the notion of paying for a wall between the two countries.
Do you really want to see what happens when someone with a demagogic appeal, a man who has always gotten his way, hears the Chinese leaders tell him to stuff it?
In China, giving in to public pressure constitutes a loss of face. When leaders lose face they lose the ability to govern. Keep in mind, in 1989 the Chinese government ran down students with tanks because the democracy protests had caused the leaders to lose some face. Do you think that they are going to kowtow to a New York real estate developer?