Introvert Or Extrovert? Here’s How Losing The Labels Leads To Greater Success
Introverts and extroverts are often misdiagnosed. So why use labels at all?
I’m going to make a bold statement: The majority of articles on how to identify introverts and extroverts are wrong. In my own company (like many others), the greatest members embody the characteristics of both. The classic advice has us mislabeled. So here’s my proposal: Why use these labels at all?
If you were to watch the majority of my leadership team in a meeting, for example, you’d say they’re introverts. They’re neither loud nor gregarious. “Your top sales guy isn’t animated? What’s wrong with him?” people might say. Or, “He’s not extroverted enough to lead.”
But take a look at leaders like Brad Smith, the CEO of Intuit. He’s one of the most unassuming people around. Some might even call him quiet enough to seem a little “introverted” at times. But he hasn’t needed to be traditionally extroverted to lead a $5B company to success. He’s probably more extroverted in front of his Board of Directors, but even then, he most likely expresses himself in a humble way without “chest pounding” or being loud.
Furthermore, we should note that the prevalent “extroverted” models of selling that prevailed in the ’90s are not successful today. Particularly in solution selling, a classically extroverted person can be offensive to customers (“Too crass, not sensitive, not empathetic”) and be rejected on their outward disposition alone.
The best leaders, in my opinion, are skilled at matching their approach to the environment, and exemplify the best characteristics of either personality style. They can be extroverted when they’re expressing something that needs to be said (even forcefully, when required). They can be introverted when it’s important to listen. For example, our VP of Sales, David Bauerle, and our top Sales Executives are great listeners. They will typically not say anything until needed, and then when needed will say something that is profound.
In a similar way, our COO, John David King, will listen respectfully as I get carried away for an hour. The verbalization and responses are helpful to me as I clarify thoughts. But these quiet leaders aren’t merely waiting for an hour for their turn to jump in and respond. They are processing and clarifying their own thoughts by listening intently.
We have classic extroverts as well — the “Trents” and the “Cades” who get up and tell jokes, stand on a table, or even pull up their shirt up to get people’s attention. They serve by sounding a trumpet call to keep team members informed and aligned. We value these characteristics. They bring great spice to an organization.
Sometimes it’s important to sound a war cry or a call to arms. Slumps can occur in a market sector that can lead to bad days, months, or years. A great leader needs the ability to rally the troops. But it doesn’t necessarily require an extrovert — sometimes it’s the quietest guy on the team who steps up and says, “This is what you could do to improve.”
The problem comes when we pigeonhole or mislabel. For example, I am often mislabeled as an extrovert. Yet I am a private person in many ways. However, I am often breaking that traditional definition by sharing my private and personal thoughts in my articles when I believe they might be helpful to others.
For some additional perspective on this, I turned to Dr. David Gruder, a psychologist, entrepreneur and author who often writes and presents on psychology in business.
There are many perspectives about “introvert” and “extrovert” behavior, Dr. Gruder explains. “In my own examinations, I believe the meaningful preferences have to do with how we recharge our batteries,” he says. “Some people gain solace from the time they spend in solitude. Others feel a need for group activities to feel energized and recharged.”
Some extreme introverts have been labeled as “Highly Sensitive People.” Many others find themselves living in the midline between the traditional definitions and can recharge their batteries both in private and in groups. “The concept of introverts and extroverts, in my experience, are similar to right and lefthandedness,” Dr. Gruder says. “The vast majority of people prefer one or the other. It is a small minority who are equally comfortable either way.”
The misnomers around the introvert and extrovert labels have to do with the assumption that the definitions are based on whether or not we like people, Dr. Gruder explains. But the preferences have nothing to do with liking people at all. Some of the most charming people in the world are introverts. And some of the greatest leaders are introverted as well.
Another meaningful look at personality differences refers to an enneagram that originated in Babylon, was adopted and taken further by a Russian mystic, George Gurdjieff, and then carried to the western hemisphere by Claudio Naranjo. The enneagram takes the position that people embody nine primary points of view, with three flavors within each of these types that are quite insightful.
The first is people who tend to be inwardly focused. They are most comfortable with their own internal world. Next are people who are most comfortable in a one-on-one setting. The third is most rejuvenated in groups of people — the “social” subtype. This notion alone — that people will be most comfortable, most receptive and will shine the most when they are aligned within their preferred style of interaction — can take leaders’ success to new levels. “This is juicy stuff, as it expands our traditional understanding of ‘vertedness’ from a two-pole state to a three-dimensional approach to learning and communication,” Dr. Gruder says.
There are strong leanings in learning styles as well, Dr. Gruder says. Some of us are visual learners; others are kinesthetic (they learn by the process of doing) and others are auditory learners. Like communication preferences, teaching environments in a business work best when they are modulated to the inclinations of the various learners, or can incorporate elements from each of these styles.
Another dimension to consider is that some people process information silently before forming an opinion. They prefer to “think before they speak.” Others need to speak in order to think — they are most effective when they process the information aloud.
“I am one of these people who process while speaking,” Dr. Gruder says. “So I’ve learned to preface my opinions at times with a statement like, ‘I’d like to think out loud to get clearer on this idea. But if you’d rather I do that on my own, I can go and do that before I respond.’”
Those who process their thoughts internally have a strong and developed opinion before they speak. But it is important to recognize the needs and preference of those who are opposite, as well. Without that understanding, they may be bouncing around inside as they hear an outward processor try on their ideas out loud. (It is also interesting to note this personality type must be extremely careful in the role of public leader unless the characteristic is tempered, as the listening audience would expect a formed and final position on an issue before the individual starts to talk.)
It is extremely valuable to understand and build bridges between these differing personality types. In all, however, I believe the people and organizations that succeed best have done so by getting free of the old definitions of tightly defined personality types. It’s time to break free of these limiting labels, or to create new and better definitions, such as Ambivert or Omnivert, to reflect the benefits of both, and to bring out the best in us all.
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