“Can I pick your brain for a second? What would stop me from using the Myers-Briggs assessment to choose my leaders?”
The question sent chills down my spine. I’ve been asked that same question hundreds of times in my career, and it always has the same effect on me. As I talked through the differences between personality type and personality traits, I thought of all the introverted leaders in the workplace today. I thought of Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Page, and Elon Musk. And then I thought of introverted leaders outside the tech industry. Stephen Spielberg, JK Rowling, and even Barack Obama are considered introverts. Each of these individuals are wildly successful, admired leaders. Some are more gregarious than others, but at their core, they are more introverted than extroverted.
The problem with using a type assessment for selecting leaders is many people have an idea in their mind of what a leader looks like. They imagine someone charismatic, strategic, organized, and visionary. In most cases, they don’t often picture an ISTJ. And yet, an introvert is just as capable of being a successful leader as any other personality type. In fact, there’s a place for each personality in leadership.
Psychology Junkies describes unique leading styles for several personality types:
ISTJ – The Detail-Oriented Leader. ISTJs are quiet, careful leaders … ESTJ – The Decisive Leader … ISFJ – The Thoughtful Leader … ESFJ – The Generous Leader … ISTP – The Tactical Leader … ESTP – The Fearless Leader … ESFP – The Charismatic Leader … INTJ – The Strategic Leader.
While there is no one right personality type for leadership, introverted leaders do have unique strengths to offer the workplace. Introverts tend to process thoughts internally thoroughly before sharing them externally. This gives them time to think through their best response and weed out bad ideas vs. speaking off the cuff. Introverted leaders may avoid using a poor choice of words because they have taken more time to think through their response before vocalizing.
Additionally, because introverts process internally, they tend to be excellent listeners. In fact, many introverts use silence as a tool to learn more. Instead of filling the dead space in a conversation with small talk or irrelevant statements, they are comfortable with silence. Extroverts, meanwhile, tend to fill silence by verbalizing their thoughts. And the whole time, the introverted leader isn’t just listening. They’re actively listening because they’re not at work forming their next statement.
Introverted leaders also tend to have a strong core composure. Even when angry, they rarely lash out quickly. Again, since they process thoughts internally before verbalizing them, they often calm themselves down before addressing the situation and approach it more methodically than an extroverted counterpart.
Finally, introverted leaders are known to be strong people developers. Since they don’t aspire to stand in the spotlight, they’re fulfilled by supporting and nurturing others so they can perform at their peak.
But, like any leader, introverted leaders experience development challenges as well. Because introverts prefer one-on-one relationships, they may excel when working with a coach or mentor vs. a classroom formal training experience. A leadership coach can help an introverted leader refine the frequency of their communication, identify energy drain pitfalls, and relationship gaps that may not be obvious to the leader. Introverted leaders can also benefit from programs designed to develop their soft skills and social strengths.
There is no one perfect personality type for any job. While an introvert may not seek out your attention, be sure not to overlook them in your search for high potentials. You may just overlook your own Barack Obama or Elon Musk!