Article: Are you losing out on your introvert employees?

Learning & Development

Are you losing out on your introvert employees?

When it comes to rewards, recognition or the race to the top, the introverts are a discounted lot; it's time they get their rightful dues.
Are you losing out on your introvert employees?

The richest and the most trusted parts of an introvert's personality are not necessarily shared with the outside world


When it comes to rewards, recognition or the race to the top, the introverts are a discounted lot; it’s time they get their rightful dues.

Call it a trend or a fallacy but organizations seem to set greater store on the big personality. In such a scenario where does the proverbial ‘shy, sober and simple’ employee fit in the organizational schema? In their search for a charismatic, effusive and outgoing leaders as well as employees, organizations seem to lose sight of the quiet and observant lot. More often than not, the hidden gems do not get the recognition they deserve and eventually they either quit or feel depressed. Neither is a win-win situation for either the employee or the organization. For introverted employees, quitting (or job hopping in the hope of being a part of an organization where they are recognized and can excel to their potential) is but a temporary solution. As for the organization, the loss is greater. Living and believing in a ‘culture of personality’ where it is the charisma, outward confidence, and ability to sell others a vision, that is prized and rewarded, organizations are perhaps missing out on one third to one half of the population that considers themselves to be introverts. Author Susan Cain, in her book, “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” suggests that by succumbing to the noisy charms of the extrovert, society and business are missing out on the insight and creativity of the more thoughtful part of the population. She is of the opinion that there’s a bias against the introverts and they are discounted for a trait that goes to the core of who they are; further arguing that it's time the more thoughtful and reserved types got their due. It makes business sense for managers to understand the differing needs of their introverted (and extroverted employees) and reap the benefits in terms of productivity and motivation.

What is it that is different in the way the introverts communicate or work that finds itself at odds with modern business culture? It is in this context that it makes all the more sense for managers / leaders to build on the talents of their more inward-focused workforce by exploring the workings of the introverted mind. Here again the question is, how do you define an introvert? Shy, unsociable, unhappy, unfriendly, insular are but a few adjectives that are wrongly attributed to an introvert. Contrary to popular imagination, introverts are neither shy nor unsociable nor aloof; but nonetheless introversion, as a trait, continues to carry a stigma in the workplace. Misconceptions aside, introverts tend to be calm and reserved, speak softly and slowly, don't seek the limelight, and act only after thinking through their thoughts. These characteristics often tend to mask their strengths: creativity, intellectual depth, and the ability to see the big picture, maintain an organization's internal compass, and balance out the go-getters in the organization. In their book, “Type Talk at Work”, Otto Kroeger and Janet Thuesen put forth their view that, “With Introverts, you see only a portion of their personality. The richest and the most trusted parts of an introvert's personality are not necessarily shared with the outside world. It takes up time, trust and special circumstances for them to begin to open up."

Going by the author duo, the takeaways for managers / leaders are clear: recognize & harmonize their key strengths and encourage their introverted employees to be their best selves. There is no dearth of example of introverts who have been successful leaders. Be it Bill Gates, or Jim Goodnight, or Warren Buffet or for that matter Richard Branson (who claims to be an introvert but knows how to hide it well) – all quintessentially introvert professionals have been successful at leading global corporations. However organizations probably need a right balance of extroverts and introverts. For instance Steve Jobs had Steve Wozniak, Steve Ballmer complemented Bill Gates. While managers / leaders can play a role in encouraging their introvert friends, introverts too can make more effort to get their thoughts across, to smile, to make eye contact, and yes, speak up.

Extroverts can take a leaf out their introvert colleagues’ philosophy and organizations can do their bit to tap into the untapped potential of the introverts; introverts besides ‘leading a quiet revolution’ (as Susan Cain puts it) must learn from their extrovert colleagues to be ‘able to talk the needed talk’ and place themselves on the ‘organizational positioning’ cluster. If the two fail in their efforts, the business world may never get to see another Buffet, Wozniak, or Gates.

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Topics: Learning & Development, Employee Engagement, Performance Management

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