But are introverts misunderstood?
It appears they are. Education experts Jill Burruss and Lisa Kaenzig point out that it is very difficult for an extrovert to understand an introvert. “Extroverts have little or no grasp of introversion. They assume that company, especially their own, is always welcome. They cannot imagine why someone would want to be alone”.
Introverts are misunderstood to be shy and it is assumed that when they are alone or not talking that they are unhappy with that situation. Introverts are often quite happy with not being in the limelight or being involved in very public or high risk activity. It is not that they want to do it, but are too shy to volunteer, as extroverts often seem to think. Recent brain studies have shown that introverts are wired differently. What is exciting and pleasant for an extrovert can be extremely unpleasant and stressful for an introvert. The processing of information from the same event, by introverts and extroverts releases different amounts of stress inducing or pleasure causing chemicals in our brains. These two extreme personality types experience very different worlds, even if in an identical situation. In a simulated test involving gambling, it was shown that the two personality types process stimuli in different ways. For extroverts, the brain signals take a shorter path, close to an area associated with taste, touch and visual and auditory sensory processing, whereas in introverts it took a longer pathway through areas associated with remembering, planning and problem solving. This supports the observation that extroverts sometimes express, that introverts are analysing whether they are having fun, rather than just enjoying the experience.
But what has this got to do with leadership? The answer is, everything and nothing! The truth is there is no such thing as an introvert or an extrovert. The more I read about how we function as humans, the more convinced I am about our uniqueness and individuality. All of us are capable of introverted and extroverted behaviours. These brain tests are usually done on people at the extreme ends of the continuum. Our personalities reflect where we are on the introverted-extroverted continuum, and describe a preference, not a behaviour. Understanding that we are all different and understanding that some people are more energised by socialising and engaging with groups of people, than others, helps us to be better leaders, wherever we fit on the continuum. Treating people as people, accepting that not everyone sees the world through our eyes, and adapting our styles, attitudes and behaviours to get the best outcome for the situation, is the secret to good leadership in my view.