Andy Johnson, of Price Associates, spoke with passion on Wednesday, October 7th at Management Grand Rounds about the “Introvert Revolution”. He began his presentation by referencing a time in history near and dear to every Bostonian’s heart: the American Revolution. King George III of England exemplified the notion that leading in isolation is never as effective as leading as a team. Looking to become independent from England, a few great leaders convened in Philadelphia. Among the attendees were introverts John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, and extroverts Benjamin Franklin and John Hancock. By leveraging each other’s opposite characteristics, the group was able to produce the Declaration of Independence, and successfully separate America from England. Andy used this example to show that we can learn about balanced leadership from history, so that we avoid repeating the mistakes of King George III.
It takes both introverts and extroverts to have a balanced workplace, community, and society. In the same way that you need night to complement day, and sadness to appreciate happiness, you need both introverts and extroverts to lead effectively. The problem is that there is an imbalanced culture in the West; society values extroverts over introverts. There has been a culture shift over the last century around leadership. A good leader used to be judged by their character, but now, leaders are judged by their charisma, which unfairly favors extroverts in leadership roles.
Andy explained that there are many myths surrounding the concept of introversion. First, there is a demographic myth. Isabel Briggs Myers, who was involved in creating the Myers-Briggs Test, said in 1957 that about 75 percent of people were extroverts, and only 25 percent were introverts. However, there is no validity to these numbers, and this incorrect assessment of society can make introverts feel like a small minority. In reality, introverts make up about 57 percent of society, with extroverts making up the remaining 43 percent. These numbers make it clear that introverts are in fact the majority of the population.
The second introvert myth is the shyness myth. Many people believe that introversion is the same as being shy. This is false. Andy explained that shyness is actually different from temperament. There are calm introverts, calm extroverts, shy introverts and shy extroverts. Shy extroverts, a new concept to me, are among the unhappiest in society, because they are usually afraid, self-conscious, and are frustrated that they feel this way. Introverts do not spend time alone because they are shy, they genuinely enjoy solitude.
A third myth about introversion is the antisocial myth. People generally believe that introvert is synonymous with recluse. The media perpetrates this notion. When reporting on mass shooters, many journalists describe them as introverted. What these journalists really mean to say is that this shooter is a loner, and on the fringe of society. However, being introverted is not the same as being antisocial.
A fourth myth is that introversion is curable. While the audience laughed at this myth, Andy told us there was in fact a proposal to include introversion in the DSM-V as a personality disorder, and there is an ICD-9 code for introverted personality diagnosis. This further stigmatizes the introverted segment of the population, and is detrimental to these people.
A fifth myth about introversion is that it is a choice. Andy used the example of a performance review, in which the manager compliments the employee on their good work—but adds that they should try harder to be more outgoing. Most introverted traits are the product of heredity; changing behavior is not as easy as “trying a little bit harder”.
Lastly, there is the leadership myth. There is this idea that introverts do not make as effective leaders as extroverts. This relates back to the Western bias against introverts, where we have come to judge leaders on their charisma. If introverts are bad leaders, does that mean that George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, both introverts, were bad leaders? Many successful leaders in the technology world are introverts, such as Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates. Introverts have many strengths that make them great leaders, and to deny this large portion of the population leadership roles would be a huge mistake.
So after learning about all these myths, what does it mean to be introverted? Audience members suggested that it means a person is quiet, contemplative, and processes information internally. Andy referred to Eysenck’s explanation that it has more to do with arousal: introverts generally have high levels of arousal, and extroverts generally have lower levels of arousal. Introverts seek solitude to bring their arousal level down to an optimal level, and extroverts seek out others to bring their arousal level up to an optimal level. In this way, both introverts and extroverts can love people, just differently. Different kinds of people need different kinds of leaders, which means that both introverts and extroverts have a seat at the leadership table. Balance in the workplace is essential for organizational health.
To lead authentically, introverts need to stop apologizing for the way that they are, and need to play into their natural strengths. To bring this “Introvert Revolution” to the forefront of social change, we need to first see the bias, then question and rethink, resulting in leading as yourself. Seeing the value of both introverts and extroverts is not only the right thing to do, it is essential to a balanced organization and society.
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