I devote a major portion of my work to serving introverted leaders. It’s not uncommon for people to tell me that the phrase “introverted leaders” is an oxymoron. The cultural stereotypes in the U.S. are so strong that people feel quite comfortable making such statements. Though they would never make such statements about differences in gender, ethnicity, or sexual orientation, they feel empowered and comfortable stating this particular bias out loud.
Unfortunately, there is a measured impact of such thinking on introverts in leadership positions in our organizations. There are more introvert leaders than you may think: A few years ago, USA Today reported that 40 percent of CEOs in the U.S. are introverts. When it comes to other C-suite executives, I suspect the percentage is even higher.
Most leaders, introverts and extroverts alike, have been fed a fairly steady diet of extroversion as synonymous with leadership. We have equated leadership with traits such as gregariousness, charisma, optimism, aggressiveness, drive, and competitiveness (a.k.a. extroversion). To rise to the top, many introverted leaders find themselves abandoning their natural strengths in favor of the desired characteristics of a charismatic leader. The problem is that it’s exhausting to pretend to be someone you are not day after day, especially for an introvert.
This is where authenticity comes in. It pays, extrinsically speaking, to be authentic. Authenticity is the opposite of shame.
The lie detector, the invention of William Moulton Marston, is based on the fact that people are wired for authenticity. It detects symptoms in the body of lying or inauthenticity, ranging from an elevated pulse to higher blood pressure, to increased perspiration. The point? Lying to ourselves or to others affects the body and has deleterious effects over time. The stress of trying to be someone else is similar. It can be connected to all sorts of negative consequences including higher stress levels, elevated blood pressure, illness, lowered creativity, and disingenuous relationships.
Not only is inauthenticity physically unhealthy, but leaders misrepresenting themselves takes a toll on the organization as well. When introverts present as extroverts, they are robbing their companies and teams of the innate talents they possess. In addition, they are falsely skewing the number of introverted leaders in the workplace and sending the message that introversion is not OK.
Authenticity is the antidote. Introverted leaders in an extroverted world can begin to take their authenticity back. It begins with education. When we expose the cultural myths and stereotypes about introversion, we can begin to change the view of introverted leaders.
Here are four ways to practice authenticity as an introvert at work:
Counter myths with accurate information.
So many of the myths contained in popular stereotypes are based on grossly inaccurate information. Introverted leaders should educate themselves about the physiological realities of introversion. Identify natural strengths, and look to great historical leaders who were introverted as examples.
Stop faking it.
One of the hardest but most rewarding actions an introverted leader can take is to resist the urge to conform to the extroverted stereotypes around him or her. Knowing that faking it is costly to health and well being, introverts must stop the charade and refuse to be forced into an extroverted mold.
Be comfortable in your skin.
The more introverts allow their introversion to show, the more comfortable they will be seeing themselves as introverts. In understanding the strengths and limitations that come with introversion, leaders can start to make a practice of explaining how it’s different for them—and stop letting more outgoing leaders make them feel inadequate.
The truth about who introverted leaders are, as well as their natural leadership gifts and strengths, begins to emerge as they move toward authenticity. Their companies benefit from their increased confidence and creativity. Those they lead benefit from their increased transparency and honesty. The leaders themselves benefit from increased health, reduced levels of stress, and ever-increasing levels of authenticity.
Andy Johnson is a coach to yin leaders and teams for Price Associates, as well as an advocate for the introvert community. He is a licensed counselor, and the author of three books, the most recent, Introvert Revolution: Leading Authentically in a World That Says You Can’t. Andy is also a faculty member for The Complete Leader.