Business culture is geared toward the go-getter, the team player, the networker, the entrepreneur and the leader. It’s about power, getting ahead, cutthroat competition, deals and leverage. It is, isn’t it? On the surface, this sounds like an automatic recipe for success for the extrovert, and disaster for the introvert. But as you’ll soon read, introverts can excel in this culture, by making the most of their unique attributes.
Since the early part of the 20th century – along with the rise of corporations – extroversion has been favored over introversion as a way of doing business.
Think about most job postings and resumes and the buzzwords you hear both from the job seeker’s and the employer’s perspectives: “work well with others; dynamic; driven; team player; shows initiative; strong leader; contributes ideas; outgoing and personable; sales-driven…”
While these are admirable traits, they are extrovert traits and they are not the only traits that are important in business.
The flip side of the coin is just as important – a strong work ethic and traits that ultimately lead to measurable results: “Conscientious; follows through; independent self-starter; self-motivated; persistent; focus on customer relations; trustworthy; curious; autonomous, self-directed, innovative, problem-solver, independent thinker…”
Introverted people have been perceived in a very negative light in the business culture mostly because of a false association of introversion with shyness. Even the dictionary definitions portray introverts as somehow socially flawed or inept. Introversion is perceived as a personality disorder: “Marked by interest in or preoccupation with oneself or one’s own thoughts as opposed to others or the environment; shy or reserved.” Definitions like these are written from the point of view of the extrovert, who sees the introvert’s tendencies as negatives; something akin to saying that introverts are self-absorbed, self-centered social outcasts who don’t care about anyone else, don’t have any people skills and can’t possibly succeed in anything except maybe basket weaving (that’s if they can market their baskets). This is a very one-sided bias, but a very pervasive one.
And what about the introvert who is thinking about flying solo and embracing entrepreneurship? Entrepreneurs in particular are thought of as highly extroverted people. Entrepreneurs rarely achieve success on their own and common knowledge says that this must be because the most successful entrepreneurs understand the power of networking and surrounding themselves with people who can help them. “Surrounding oneself with people” makes the introvert cringe – and yet, there are many highly successful introverted entrepreneurs.
You’ve heard of Bill Gates and Warren Buffet? Introverts. Wildly successful introverts. And they are not alone: Steve Wozniak (co-founder of Apple, partnering with the highly extroverted Steve Jobs) and Larry Page (co-founder of Google) are introverts. Other notable introverts include former First Lady and women’s rights champion Eleanor Roosevelt; civil rights activist Rosa Parks; the world’s richest woman, Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling; and Albert Einstein.
What about the introvert on the way to the top of the corporate ladder? The irony is, as every CEO knows, “It’s lonely at the top.” And who would thrive better at that lonely pinnacle of achievement than an introvert? According to some estimates, 70% of CEOs describe themselves as introverts. How is that possible, when CEOs are also required to interact with people on a daily (sometimes 24/7) basis, speak in public, attend functions and meetings – heck, host many meetings – and play the part of a gregarious, people-oriented leader… and schmooze to win clients and influence people?
You’ve probably heard, “it’s not what you know but who you know” as a secret to success: putting yourself out there, being seen, striking up conversations, shamelessly promoting yourself and growing your list of contacts until you have one degree, not six, of separation between you and the rest of humanity.
If you’re introverted, you probably feel a strong urge to hide right about now. That’s not how you roll and you don’t define success by the size of your address book. However, that gregarious, pushy business model is being forced down your throat. “Go out there, meet people, network…” Is it any wonder that introverts may feel hesitation when considering becoming business owners? Is it any wonder that the climb up the career ladder can be daunting to an introvert?
Like sexism, there is a strong bias toward valuing extroversion in the business culture. Business culture is still sexist and upholds sexist ideals: men are paid more and valued more than women and yet, despite the progress women have made, this bias is so deeply ingrained that it persists. Even women perpetuate the bias. It’s the same with introversion. If a person grows up believing that introversion is a negative personality trait or worse, a psychological disorder, it will affect their success.
It’s high time these biases are debunked! The old-school approach of valuing extroverts and dismissing introverts is faulty at best. To make the most of your business, or to thrive in your career, you will want to understand and employ the attributes of both styles of relating to the world. This applies both to yourself and to people you work with.
What might surprise you the most is that introverts are not a tiny minority. There are far more introverts among the general population than is readily apparent; in fact, most people are neither completely introverted nor completely extroverted. So for most of us, it’s possible to take on traits that best serve our needs at the moment – for example, introverts can learn to make small talk and handle social situations; and extroverts can learn to value solitude. To a point.
You can make a real splash in the business world if you’re an introvert. No, no, that doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily be in the spotlight, it simply means that you have the same opportunities to succeed as any extrovert. It’s all about learning to value and expand on your personality traits and attributes and use them to your best advantage.