Conventional wisdom has implied you need to be an extrovert to start a successful business. To quote Elizabeth Bernstein in a recent Wall Street Journal article, extroverts are “verbally adept and able to inspire employees, clients and investors with the shear force of their personality.” Her article, ‘Why Introverts Make Great Entrepreneurs’ goes on to explain why, contrary to popular belief, introverts are in some ways even more capable of leading a successful business. Since they are not driven by personal glory, they tend to quietly-but-firmly lead in a very focused manner, getting the most out of their employees.
Bernstein cites several self-admitted introverts (including Bill Gates, Steve Woznick, Larry Page, Mark Zuckerberg and Warren Buffett) before diving into her four-part rationale:
They crave solitude
Many falsely believe introverts are shy, but in reality they have an active “inner life” and proves information internally. Extroverts, on the other hand, “gain energy from being with other people and typically process informational externally, meaning they prefer to talk through problems instead of pondering them alone.” This comfort in being alone with one’s thoughts can be crucial to really thinking through ivory tower strategy.
They don’t need external affirmation
Since introverts rely mostly on their own internal compass to know if they’re on the right track, they do not require approval from others before moving forward with an idea. This also helps them to stay focused on the goal and not be distracted by the need for social stimulation and endorsement. “Extroverts can get sidetracked by seeking external validation, such as awards or media attention for a project, which can divert them from their main goals,” says Bernstein.
They’re better listeners
Extroverts are always talking and can dominate a conversation without even realizing it. This can lead to making false assumptions followed by wrong turns. Introverts are always thinking and processing, so they tend to hang back really listening and only chiming in when they have something worthwhile to say. This helps to see important, loose connections that otherwise might have been missed.
They’re more realistic
Extroverts are wired to be constantly seeking the positive, loudly trumpeting their work and hoping to rally the troops in their wake. This can be decisive when pushing through tough times, but it also may lead to overlooking realities that need to be met head-on. Introverts, though, are much more critical and thus realistic when weighing feedback and analyzing a situation.
Over the last 30+ years I have prided myself on my ability to focus, work hard, listening skills, and agility, attributes I have always thought were important for success. I never, however, thought about these attributes as being the same as an introvert.