The trouble with introverts (and why it's time for them to take over)

Career Dilemmas Management Why it's time for introverts to take over

Being an employer of choice, Workopolis offers employee training and skills-development workshops to help staff advance in their careers. There’s a particular series going on right now just for managers (as the chief editor, I manage a team), that is aimed at helping the leaders of the company grow into their roles.

I appreciate the good intentions, and my professional reputation will likely take a hit for skipping out, but I don’t go. These sessions invariably involve forming impromptu teams to brainstorm hypothetical problems and role-playing to act out challenging scenarios.

It’s not that I’m shy or lack social skills; those gatherings don’t make me anxious or uncomfortable. It’s just that the toll they take on me far outweighs any insights I might possibly glean from them. That’s because I am an introvert. As such there are some things that I can do really well, but rah! rah! team exercises and forced ‘social’ gatherings drain my energy and spirit.

That’s the trouble with introverts. We think that we have a job to do, and we want to be allowed to hunker down and do it well. Unfortunately most workplace gains are made through politics, not performance.

In her New York Times article, Susan Cain writes about how autonomous work that requires privacy has been all but replaced by “The New Groupthink,” which “elevates teamwork above all else.”

We’ve noted recently how narcissists who can easily speak highly (and at-length) about themselves get hired first and promoted faster.

Do you find people telling you to “come out of your shell”? Catch yourself leaving social gatherings early because you’ve frankly run out of small talk and would rather be alone with your thoughts than fake it? Those are clear signs that you might be an introvert, and it can be hurting your prospects.

Five ways that introverts are their own worst enemies:

    As I mentioned, we tend to stay out of the loop on office politics. In order to rise through the ranks in an organization, you need to know who the key decision makers are (and this doesn’t go by job title alone) and what they base their decisions on. You need mentors who are on their way up – and to distance yourself from those on their way out.

    Lack of self-promotion. People often talk about the need to ‘sell yourself’ to a potential employer in a job interview. Well, that selling process doesn’t end when you’re hired. To survive and advance in the modern workplace you need to keep marketing yourself and your accomplishments to the right people at the right time.

    If you arrive at the same time as the president, and she asks, “How was your weekend?”, an introvert is likely to answer something like, “Great, thank you. And yours?” There’s nothing wrong with that, but a far more strategic (and extroverted) answer would be to say, “Great! I was just going over the month’s results last night, and the new initiative my team has been experimenting with is really paying off. We’re up by xx%.”

    (Translation: I was working on the weekend, I’m bringing innovation to my job, and it’s driving increased success.)

    Because they don’t do that, introverts allow themselves to be easily overlooked. While the more socially outgoing coworkers are talking up a storm about their ideas and accomplishments, the hard work and achievements of introverts can be under-appreciated because no one is trumpeting them.

    Not networking. People aren’t going to speak highly of having worked with you if they can’t actually remember working with you. Part of the real career currency that we earn at every job is the network we build up, the connections that we make. Introverts are too often willing to miss the opportunity to bond with people outside of their immediate circle and to keep in touch with former employers and colleagues.

    We also tend to avoid group events where we do not know the agenda or what our role will be. (Such as my avoiding three-hour ‘role-playing meetings’ that would allow me to connect with managers across the organization.)

    Not speaking out in meetings. Introverts don’t love meetings. Meetings too often seem to drag us away from actually getting things done to go and sit in a room with a group of people to talk about how we’re going to get things done. Speaking up in meetings only prolongs them, and can therefore appear to be counter-productive. But it’s the best way to get your opinion heard (and show that you have relevant opinions), and to demonstrate leadership abilities. It may not be intuitive for introverts, but it is essential to speak out in meetings.

Why it’s time for introverts to take over

Introversion isn’t shyness, and it doesn’t indicate a lack confidence. Quite the contrary, introverts simply don’t depend on other people to validate their personalities or the choices they make. They don’t need to do all of the talking. Introverts are active listeners, and therefore frequently notice details that others don’t.

Introverts are curious, they question, and they learn. This breeds innovation and improvement. They’re self-reflective and know their own strengths and weaknesses. This helps prevent mistakes.

Studies show extroverts are better at leading passive employees because they have a knack for motivation and inspiring. But those kinds of teams, where disengaged workers need to be spurred on by a dynamic and forceful leader aren’t the way the world of work is going.

In an economy where creative thinking and innovation are increasingly important to success and survival for businesses, having a leader who cultivates these can be vital. Introverts are better at leading proactive teams because they listen to others and allow people to run with their ideas. More innovations and creative idea-sharing can be produced when leaders are willing to listen to others rather than simply doing all of the talking themselves.

As natural readers, writers and one-on-one communicators, introverts are also uniquely gifted for the new internet which is interactive and personal. (See: 8 Reasons Why Introverts Rule the Interactive Age.)

The guy who speaks the most and the loudest doesn’t always know what he’s talking about. Introverts may not instantly own every room they walk into, so they aren’t likely the first names discussed when reviewing ‘up-and-comers’ at the company, but it’s their creative thinking and strategic focus that will drive future success.

Introverts, let’s not unite. We have too much work to do.

(Oh, and as the training session I ditched most recently was a three-hour seminar on Time Management and Setting Priorities, I think I should get an automatic A on the topic for not going, and for y’know … doing my job.)

See Also:

Who wins, introverts or extraverts?
You’re right pessimists; you’re really not likely to succeed
The bullies are being rewarded at work (and what you can do about it)


Peter Harris
Peter Harris on Twitter


  • thenomad

    It’s the reason I’m trying to set up my own company and be self-employed. I have no problem speaking up at meetings, and I always make my presence known, pitch ideas, and volunteer for anything I can. Unfortunately, this doesn’t help in my office because people here are really that daft. And it’s frustrating to know that I can do better than half the managers at my place, so it’s time to manage just myself than play annoying politics!

    • ssety

      Good for you! That way, you can create, develop, motivate, etcetera without being politicized, etc.

  • tac_mon

    thanks for the incisive clarity, i’m an introvert.

  • yury

    Question to the author: Dont you think that managers are managing people first of all? so the person is an introvert and not into social gathering, meetings, and talking to people why would the person want to be a manager?
    in my personal experience – most of good managers love to talk/socialize/meetings and often have less technical expertise on the subject they are managing. however those managers who have great technical expertise, avoid social interaction and politics they do everything but managing.
    ps: i am not an expert just sharing my personal opinion and experience.

    • Richard Hall

      Being an introvert isn’t a weakness.

    • ssety

      Well, in my opinion, the best managers are those who can Lead, and Listen, Delegate, rather than Dictate. In other words, these manager have excellent people skills, or a very high emotional quotient (EQ). Yes, I agree that most managers are ‘extroverts’, those who are Heard, and socialize, but do not possess the technical knowledge of the industry they head.
      From personal experience, “Introverted’ manager are those who will be able to develop careers, to develop Dreams, to develop Society because people will eventually stay on because of the passion that drive them in doing what they do, and this is the backbone to a successful organization.

  • Cameron Crockatt

    In response to “As such there are some things that I can do really well, but rah! rah! team exercises and forced ‘social’ gatherings drain my energy and spirit.” it seems the same could be said of cardio exercise if you are not disciplined. Interacting with people is always necessary and face to face communication is most effective so I would suggest that working on weaknesses to build up strength is far superior to avoiding that which reminds us of our weaknesses. There is no escape to social interaction (or from cardiovascular health). Embrace the opportunity to grow!

    • Richard Hall

      Wow! “dark little world”? “Wallow in their own uniqueness.”? That’s pretty harsh and not very accurate of intorverts.

      • Richard Hall

        Sorry, this wasn’t meant for you.

  • Friexen

    Yes, I agree with Yury… it’s such a treat to have a manager who hunkers down in their office, doing their own thing, skipping social gatherings (a chance to actually interact with subordinates), sit silently at meetings, and are generally unable to deal with things that actually involve human interaction. Whenever the employees need them to resolve conflicts or discuss performance/merit etc, they are inept. They are better off in jobs where they can sit in their own dark little world and wallow in their uniqueness. Leave the managing to people who are better equipped to handle politics and social interaction. Do us all a favor and turn down any managerial jobs!

  • Richard Hall

    Wow! “Dark little world”? “Wallow in their own uniqueness.”? That’s pretty harsh and not very accurate of introverts and sounds like bitterness.

    This article was pretty interesting, but however what is more interesting is the lack of understanding what it means to be an introvert from a couple of the comments below.

    Introverts are not the same as someone who is socially inept, and being an introvert isn’t a weakness. There is nothing wrong with being introverted. The world is filled with Introverts who have become leaders like Bill Gates, and Journalist George Stephanopolous, among many others.

    There are plenty of managers that i have met who are very out-going, yet they fail to communicate properly to their team. Some have trouble listening and lack empathy towards others. They may be good at what they do or they may be knowledgeable in their field, but lack People skills. There are a lot of managers who fall into their
    An introvert isn’t going to necessarily be someone that doesn’t socialize. In fact introverts tend to get the job done; they often can focus more on a task and see it to completion. They are often independent thinkers,or are great at communicating with their team. They can often think outside the box and they come in a variety of flavours. Just because a person may need a bit of time to themselves to regenerate doesn’t make them socially inept.

    • Backslap_Bob

      One of the most famous introverts? David Letterman. Yeah, that Letterman.

  • No Andno

    Don’t you realize that the government is bringing in THE NEW WORLD ORDER in the next couple years? None of this matters! All hell is about to break loose. Go look up NEW WORLD ORDER, RFID CHIPS & AGENDA 21 on youtube. It’s time for you to wake up & unplug yourself from The Matrix.

  • Sandra Canada

    As an introvert, I’m all for attending meetings, workshops, training seminars, etc., etc., going to lunch as a group for a co-worker’s birthday or to say good-bye to someone leaving. What I’m not comfortable with are social gatherings such as summer fun days outside of the office, especially when everyone else seems to drink alcohol and I don’t, plus sitting around for 3 hours listening to other people talking is boring.

    • Cameron Crockatt

      Same here, I prefer to enjoy the company of others while doing things such as biking or anything that requires some sort of skill and people can help each other with.

  • Eagle

    Not all introverts cannot promote themselves. Look at you!

  • Efrem

    The author is right when speaking in favor of introverts. Now the problem is to convince recruiters that an introvert is better than an “enthusiastic” psychopath.

  • Gregory Ticker

    All this advice is related to an “office plankton”, i.e . people who don’t produce real things and whose real contribution very hard to measure by solid metrics, and whose advancement depends on being “a nice fellow’ and be liked by boss, not being competent. If you are in position of the Production manager, New Product Development Engineer, R&D Scientist, here it is very simple to asses your contribution to the organization, and no team work will replace your ability to find an elegant an effective solution to complex technical problem. You may be won’t advance on the administrative ladder, but your bonus would reflect it.

  • Aaron

    The world isn’t ‘moving in a new direction’. Rather, on occasion, introverts are selected to lead due to their ability to think and plan in detail. As should be obvious, when this happens, the team dynamic isn’t quite the same as it would be if the more common extroverted leaders were there instead.

    Being an introvert, I can quickly evaluate systems and identify dysfunctions or things which to me are obvious, but to others ‘innovative’. When I suggest these to bosses/authority figures, they usually brush it off. Only a tiny portion of the ideas are adopted and generally not the ones that actually make a difference.

    Suggesting more interaction between management and staff to fix miscommunications? Nope. Using a piece of double sided tape to fix a printer temporarily (permanently because they’ll not replace it until it breaks completely)? Sure.

    Changing the dynamic of a group is generally not acceptable, even where it yields huge benefits. In brevity, if it ain’t broke, your bosses won’t fix it.

  • sbsieber

    I am definitely an introvert, but am (unfortunately) also shy and lacking in confidence. Sigh.