When looking for your next hire, you might have an image in your head of what a star performer is like. And, in all likelihood, that image depicts an extroverted employee. It’s no surprise, actually – it’s the attributes that we traditionally associate with “natural born leaders” and “great salesmen”: charisma, magnetism, outspokenness. In other words, a person that thrives when they’re surrounded by their team, solving problems and inciting change.
In reality, however, there’s a lot to be said for introverted individuals, and what they can bring to your company. They’re great leaders and creative thinkers – and considering they comprise up to half of the population, they might be a relatively untapped resource for your company.
Still not sure? Here are five reasons why you should hire an introvert.
They’re not who you think they are
In her Ted Talk on the power of introverts, author Susan Cain dispels some of the falsehoods about introversion:
“You need to understand what introversion is. It’s different from being shy. Shyness is about fear of social judgment. Introversion is more about, how do you respond to stimulation, including social stimulation. So extroverts really crave large amounts of stimulation, whereas introverts feel at their most alive and their most switched-on and their most capable when they’re in quieter, more low-key environments. Not all the time — these things aren’t absolute — but a lot of the time.”
By this definition, an introverted employee doesn’t have worse people skills than an extroverted one, and they can still be team players. They are just more sensitive to stimulation. “But now here’s where the bias comes in. Our most important institutions, our schools and our workplaces, they are designed mostly for extroverts and for extroverts’ need for lots of stimulation,” says Cain. “Now, most of us work in open plan offices, without walls, where we are subject to the constant noise and gaze of our coworkers.”
In short: don’t blame the introvert, blame the open-concept office.
They’re amazing at creative thinking
“Solitude is a crucial ingredient often to creativity,” says Cain, listing off geniuses like Darwin and Wozniak that were vocal about how their introversion was crucial to their accomplishments. “Now, of course, this does not mean that we should all stop collaborating – and case in point, is Steve Wozniak famously coming together with Steve Jobs to start Apple Computer – but it does mean that solitude matters and that for some people it is the air that they breathe,” she says.
A recent article comes to mind that extols the importance of being alone during creative pursuits; in it, the author explores the writings of psychologist Ester Buchholz, author of The Call of Solitude:
“Needing time alone, according to Buchholz, doesn’t mean there is something wrong with you or that you’re antisocial. In fact, she says, it’s important that we clear away the chatter and let our minds wander: ‘Solitude is required for the unconscious to process and unravel problems,’ she writes. ‘Others inspire us, information feeds us, practice improves our performance, but we need quiet time to figure things out, to emerge with new discoveries, to unearth original answers.’”
They’re careful leaders
Online brokerage Motif’s recent article on why introverts make great investors argues that introverts “manage uncertainty without acting on impulse.” Essentially, they take the time to research the options and make calculated decisions – and they’re great listeners. The same attributes make introverts adept leaders in a wide range of settings.
“Introverts are routinely passed over for leadership positions, even though introverts tend to be very careful, much less likely to take outsize risks — which is something we might all favor nowadays,” says Cain.
They let employees shine
In a previous article on managing introverts, we mentioned Adam Grant’s research at the Wharton School that looked at how much more effective introverted leaders can be. Cain offers some further explanation on why that is:
“When they are managing proactive employees, they’re much more likely to let those employees run with their ideas, whereas an extrovert can, quite unwittingly, get so excited about things that they’re putting their own stamp on things, and other people’s ideas might not as easily then bubble up to the surface.”
A good leader should be encouraging their team to grow and thrive, and sometimes, extroverted leaders can hinder that approach. Meanwhile, introverts’ proclivities for careful consideration and listening make them ideal for fostering and encouraging employees.
Collaboration isn’t always the answer
A common argument against the abilities of introverts is their ability to engage in collaborative work and team brainstorming. Cain’s response is simple: “Stop the madness for constant group work. Just stop it.”
There are plenty of times where interactions and collaboration are an important part of the workplace – but it’s not always the right choice. The problem with constant group work, says Cain, is that it’s not really collaborative. Why? Because we instinctively will start mirroring the extroverts.
“Groups famously follow the opinions of the most dominant or charismatic person in the room, even though there’s zero correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas — I mean zero. So, you might be following the person with the best ideas, but you might not. And do you really want to leave it up to chance? Much better for everybody to go off by themselves, generate their own ideas freed from the distortions of group dynamics, and then come together as a team to talk them through in a well-managed environment and take it from there.”
In fact, one study on brainstorming effectiveness found that while group brainstorming is effective for simpler problems, when it comes to more complex issues, it becomes a too-many-cooks situation, where various ideas essentially block each other out and get ignored.
So the next time you’re looking to make a hire, consider the introvert. Not only can they bring a lot to your team – they can help your existing employees shine, too.