Confidence, Introversion, and Leadership

William Pora's comment about two former supervisors on my article about introvert executives got me thinking: Is an introvert naturally less confident than an extrovert, and does that affect her ability to lead others? What behavioral triggers make someone seem less confident, and do they parallel with her standing on the introversion-extroversion scale?

First, let's be clear that shyness and introversion are not the same.

Both characteristics have to do with sociability--but that's about it. Shy folks want to interact, yet the prospect makes them fearful. It's like wanting to bungee jump and being unable to launch over the ledge. They're scared. Introverts, on the other hand, interact with people easily--they just find it exhausting. They have no interest in bungee jumping, even though it doesn't scare them. Introverts need a lot more alone time; they don't crave interpersonal interaction as much as extroverts (and some don't need it at all).

One of my college psychology professors said the simplistic rule of thumb in determining if a person is introverted or extroverted is whether, after a big party, he is energized or drained.

Another great illustration comes from Carol Bainbridge in an article, in which she wrote that an introverted child would rather sit at a desk and read, because playing with a large group of children is tiring, while a shy child wants to play with other children but can't bring himself to do so. People can overcome shyness.

I was a shy child, but I worked hard to get over it. I'm still an introvert, though.

Back to the question about introversion and confidence. We've all known people who are just as charismatic and powerful in their reserve as loud and boisterous folks are--and sometimes more so. (After all, isn't the "strong, silent type" a familiar cliché?) Someone who is shy may have trouble feeling confident--fear and confidence typically negate each other--but an introvert can still be a powerful leader.

Extroverts don’t have a lock on the confidence characteristic.

There's no question that confidence is required for leadership. Few follow a wishy-washy person. And smart people won't follow someone who--even if loudly and in party mode--rushes pell-mell into an ill-considered decision.

The ability to assess options, choose with assuredness, and advocate the choice strongly to others to lead them belies confidence. And I daresay you'll find that ability all along the introversion-extroversion scale.

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Reader Comments (2)

(A mention in a Leslie Farnsworth blog. I am pretty sure that one day I will be able to use that in a name dropping conversation. "Did you know I was once mentioned in a Leslie Farnsworth blog? That's right... Be jealous!")

"Esto nobis, domine, turris fortitudinis." Be unto us, oh Lord a tower of strength - The litany of the Saints.

That's all anyone really looks for in a group. Your one rock you can cling to in the storm, your guiding light, your Achilles (or Hector when you come down to it he wasn't evil or weak just overmatched, but more on him another time). Doesn't matter if a leader is intro or extroverted.

There is one final quality people look for in a leader and this rarely gets mentioned in polite society.

Someone to blame. Someone who takes the fall if things go wrong. You get the glory but in return you also get the risk. It's an old and fair arrangement. Old as the hills.

But the true leader, the one who should be in charge, that person likes it that way. They relish the call to serve as a leader no matter what the outcome is.

That person knows that this is what they were born for.

August 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterWilliam Pora

Too funny, William! You're such a wonderful conversationalist, I daresay you'll have a number of appearances in my articles. After all, that's the beauty of dialogue and provoking interesting thought, is it not? (And I can't tell you how honored I am that you read and interact with me here!)

And yes: Being the leader is not all roses. In fact, many people would rather follow--and in many cases, they may be the smarter ones. But some people are compelled to take the reins. Is it innate? Learned?


August 19, 2012 | Registered CommenterLeslie Farnsworth

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