There is a myth in the corporate world that introverts are not good leaders whereas extroverts are, but in reality the working world needs both, says bestselling author Susan Cain.
At yesterday's (May 20) Paraplanner Conference run by the Chartered Institute for Securities & Investment, Cain who is the author of Quiet Power: The Secret Strengths of Introverts, and Quiet: The Power of Introverts in A World That Can’t Stop Talking, discussed the introverts versus extroverts debate.
She explained that neurobiologically, introverts and extroverts were wired differently. “Introverts have nervous systems that react more to all the different stimuli that are coming in, and extroverts' nervous systems react less,” she said.
Referencing psychologist Russell Green, she described a well-known experiment where he looked at groups of people solving math problems with varying levels of background noise.
He found that the extroverts did well when the background noise was on, but the introverts did much better when the background noise was softer.
“It's also a profound bit of research for those of us who are trying to figure out what kind of workplace works well for us, because it's telling us that if you're an extrovert who's craving stimulation, you need a workplace where you're getting it,” she said.
“If you're an introvert, who's not going to solve those math problems as well when there's a whole lot of stuff going on in the background then you need to create some kind of a workspace where you're getting the reduction in the stimuli so that your nervous system is in equilibrium.”
Cain said as the industry starts to go back to offices, there is going to be a balancing act to strike and people will need to physically get into that state of equilibrium.
“Maybe for you that means every hour or so you get up and you take a solo walk for 10 minutes. People tend to feel guilty about taking those steps for themselves because they feel as if they're taking time away from their work, but you should think of it instead as taking the steps that will allow you to show up and be more present for your colleagues and pre-work.”
However, this goes beyond just the workspace as it comes down to the people working together too, she explained.
Cain said: “We actually know that the best performing teams tend to be a mix of introverts and extroverts and if they are just too lopsided in either direction, you can imagine how it starts to go off the rails. That's true, not only at the team level but also at the individual leadership level.
“If you look at many successful leaders, they're usually people who are self aware enough to understand what their strengths are, what they like to do and don't like to do, and to find partners, either as co-leaders or as the lieutenant, just under them, but someone who likes to do the things that they don't like to do, and vice versa and that’s incredibly important.”