Introverted Executives – Understanding Your Type & Strategies for Optimal Performance

Introverted Executives – Understanding Your Type
& Strategies for Optimal Performance – Aoife Harrington

According to eminent psychologist Carl Jung, people are innately different in the way they prefer to do things and one key dichotomy on which people’s preferences tend to vary is Extraversion versus Introversion. Jung’s typology theory purports that an individual’s natural preference for one of these functions over the other leads them to direct energy towards it and to develop behaviours and personality patterns characteristic of that function. In the context of organisational effectiveness, Jung’s theory, and more specifically his research around extraversion/introversion preferences, has significant implications and indeed applications in terms of executive behaviour.

Importantly, for the purpose of this paper, the words introvert and extravert should not be confused with popular ideas of these concepts, e.g. shyness versus sociability. According to Jung’s research (and the consequential development of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator – MBTI) extraverts prefer to focus on the outer world of people and activities, directing their energy and attention outward and feeding off the energy gleaned from interacting with people. By contrast, introverts prefer to focus on their own inner world of ideas and experiences, directing their energy inwards and receiving energy from reflecting on their thoughts and feeling.

Forging strong working relationships, building networks, communicating vision and profiling oneself within the organisation represent a significant aspect of an executive’s daily routine. Talking, networking and interacting, however, are concepts with significantly more appeal to extraverted types than introverted types. As outlined above, extraverts are energised through interactions with others while introverts are energised by introspection and time spent alone, thus they often tend to be left with a dearth of energy following interpersonal encounters. Furthermore, the level of energy consumption and consequential feeling of mental fatigue is directly related to the frequency and intensity of such encounters, highlighting the need for introverts to manage their level of interaction with others.

So what does this mean for introverted executives functioning in the largely extraversion-dominated business world? For limited periods of time, introverts can be just as effective as extraverts at performing the ‘relating to people’ functions of their daily routine. Over the long haul, however, they must find ways to leverage their strengths and be true to their personality types. Some key strategies that can support and facilitate this process are outlined below;

  1. Self-awareness: Truly understanding the theory of introversion as defined in the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is a good first step. The MBTI is one of the most frequently used self-report assessment tools in leadership development initiatives around the world as it provides invaluable information about a person’s preferred way of behaving and as such can be very beneficial for building self-awareness. Not only will becoming more familiar with Type Theory help to clarify what having an introversion preference entails, it should also enlighten introverts as to the ways in which their extraverted colleagues are likely to approach similar tasks.
  2. Creating Solitude: It is essential that the introverted executive develops strategies for creating solitude even in the midst of busy organisational life. Taking time out should serve to fuel creativity, decision-making and thinking, thus allowing the introverted executive to be responsive rather than reactive in challenging and pressurised situations. This can be achieved by blocking out quiet time on your calendar so you don’t become overwhelmed with meetings and conversations. Find opportunities to be alone with your thoughts every day, even for a brief period of time. Walk around the office complex at lunch or listen to soothing music during your commute perhaps. (Remember introverts draw energy from quiet time; extraverts draw their energy from other people.).
  3. Contribution in Meetings: Interestingly, because introverts tend to offer few non-verbal cues about what’s going on inside their heads, extraverts often misinterpret this as lack of interest or involvement in the topic under discussion. In terms of managing your type in meetings, it can be useful for introverted executives to be armed with one or two insightful questions when entering meetings where they are not the facilitator. If you’re not ready to state a position, ask a question so you are seen as making an impact and are interested in what’s going on.
  4. Communicating Information: Introverts are often more comfortable stating a position in writing rather than face-to-face, as it gives them the time to think through ideas before airing them in public. If it’s effective in your organisation to use email for advocacy, perhaps try that. In fact, in the age of social networking, introverted executives can leverage their preference for written communication to connect with employees at a virtual level (e.g. via Intranet or blogs). If this option is not ideal and you are required to make your point in a conversation or a meeting, outline your thoughts beforehand so you’ll feel prepared. Consult meeting agendas so that you know in advance what’s going to be discussed and take the time to think through your contributions before the meeting begins.
  5. Getting your Point Across: Turn up the intensity, not the volume. Practice speaking up with conviction and clarity, not volume or length. The loudest person rarely makes the best contribution. People will pay attention and soon realise that your well-thought out contributions can add significant value to the discussion.
  6. Promoting Self-awareness in Others: Promoting your team’s understanding and appreciation of personality and communications style differences can be a very effective strategy for ensuring you own, and your team’s, optimal performance. It should help them to appreciate you for who you are and the process should also help you to better understand them, their needs and their preferences.

Essentially, there are merits to both styles of preference, introversion and extraversion, and, equally, pitfalls. Extraverted leaders often make quick decisions and move into action, sometimes before enough time for reflection and analysis while introverted leaders may continue to reflect when it is time for action and their preference for internal processing may exclude others. The key message to take home, however, is that the business world is very much extraversion-orientated and therefore the key to optimal performance is for the introverted executive to develop strategies to cope in such an environment. Introverts can add untold value to executive level roles; a calm resolution in crisis situations, analytical problem solving, calculated risk-taking, reflective thought processes and attention to detail.

In business, personality does matter but it’s not about becoming something you’re not – it’s about becoming more effective at being who you are.

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Aoife Harrington is a Consultant at DavittCorporatePartners – Corporate Psychologists