Mo Katibeh, President and COO, RingCentral
By Mo Katibeh
The running joke about World Introvert Day (on January 2nd) is that introverts would rather skip the party and celebrate alone. Introverts are said to feel “drained” by working with others. “If you’re a true introvert,” quips American comedian Amy Schumer, “other people are basically energy vampires.”
The perception is that senior executives tend to be outgoing, and conventional wisdom supports the idea that extroverts make the best leaders. Thankfully, there are many examples in business where leaders who score high on the introversion scale thrive and succeed.
Prominent business leaders and noted introverts, such as Bill Gates, Marissa Mayer, Mark Zuckerberg, and Arianna Huffington didn’t reach the pinnacles of success by acting sullenly or withdrawn. Yet, these breakthrough leaders have shown that being an effective manager doesn’t require working the room like you’re running for mayor.
There’s no avoiding people in a senior role. Enterprises today tend to be more collaborative than ever before. Everyone expects employees to work well with others. Smart, collaborative tools can reduce stress on introverts, enabling peers or managers to check in with others without always meeting face-to-face. Yet, even intelligent tools can’t force a leader to reach out to others for advice and assistance. As an introvert in a senior executive role, I couldn’t lead a team if I ignored others and tried to do everything myself.
I know firsthand that misunderstandings persist about how introverted managers engage with others. Here’s my take on the five biggest misnomers about introverted leaders and how to counteract these misperceptions.
- Introverts aren’t good communicators.
Keep in mind that communication is verbal and non-verbal. Extroverts may excel at verbalizing their thoughts, but introverts often have non-verbal gifts that stem from avid listening and empathy. True, introverts are rarely the first to speak, but they choose their words carefully when they do so. Introverts are good at discerning what an audience wants to hear from a leader and understanding that audiences differ. We like familiarity, practice, and preparation and engage with our audience in a way that shows we are tuned in to their needs and listening to their feedback. Employees look for positive leadership that also acknowledges their questions and any concerns. Leading with compassion and rallying our people around our future direction are the hallmarks of good leadership.
- Introverts aren’t team players.
Introverts eschew the spotlight, but we don’t hog all of the credit. If anything, we err on the side of giving disproportionate credit to others. Yet, as leaders, we understand the importance of recognizing people and putting others first. Every human being appreciates recognition for the excellent work they do. Even when individuals need to perform better, we applaud them for their efforts and point them in the right direction. A core part of being a good executive is coaching people and helping them become better employees and leaders.
- Introverts are unsociable.
We expect our leaders to be extroverts—personable and engaging, and brimming with social confidence. Extroverts find it easier than introverts to socialize because the experience recharges them. However, the introverts I’ve known understand that social encounters don’t last forever—scheduling time to recharge after a social event powers us through. While introverts may not seek out small talk in social engagements, we crave meaningful moments. We want to listen and get to know our customers, partners, and teammates. Ultimately, it’s easier for us to go deep with one person and strive for a connection.
- Introverts are overthinkers.
What do introverts do when they’re recharging their batteries? I like ‘thinking time’ to quietly work through important decisions, analyze the data and review the feedback. Good leaders make informed decisions for the present while always planning for the future. In today’s macroeconomic climate, making suitable investments to steer through the current and future market conditions ensures the business is grounded in the present while being ready to emerge stronger as conditions improve.
- Introverts lack leadership charisma.
Some executives, when pushed, will admit to being leery of the spotlight. Some people are naturally shy around strangers. But as an executive, you don’t get to pick and choose all the people you meet. You must engender trust and confidence. You can’t do that if you’re awkward in social situations. Everything I’ve read and learned about charisma comes down to this: it is teachable. Expressing passion, radiating warmth, and exuding confidence convey charisma. So does strong EQ (emotional intelligence), which requires managing your emotions and influencing the feelings of others. Being an introvert makes you keenly aware of other people’s social challenges and the importance of personal connections that lead to deeper, long-standing relationships. Establishing a personal connection and maintaining an even keel are all crucial factors to strong EQ and a charismatic presence.
Many executives don’t fit neatly into either the introvert or extrovert buckets. Our effectiveness as leaders doesn’t require us to be one way or the other. Another popular myth is that introversion is simply about how we draw energy from others for social encounters. In my view, the distinctions run much deeper than that; if they weren’t, people wouldn’t be able to discern the difference. Ultimately, the difference is a matter of how we impact others—the true purpose of leadership.