Consider the Introvert

One day when companies start hiring (and they will so have hope), I look forward to a new kind of workforce. One where we value integrity and teamwork as opposed to the go-getter who "gets" at any cost. This kind of workforce will be better for employees but also better for bosses too, because it's actually more productive and sustainable.

So how do we get there? To start, we need to consider individuals whom you may otherwise overlook. The persistent problem-solver, the silent genius. Americans are one of, if not the most extroverted people, and we reward the ones who can talk the talk. When we think of successful CEOs, we tend to think charismatic extroverts. But there are actually more successful companies that are led by introverts (according to this article). Some notable #introverts include Steve Wozniak (co-founder of Apple), Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, Albert Einstein, Rosa Parks, Al Gore, Ang Lee, and Vera Wang.

Clockwise from top left 1. Steve Wozniak 2. Ang Lee 3. Vera Wang 4. Al Gore 5. Warren Buffett 6. Bill Gates 7. Albert Einstein 8. Rosa Parks

Would you have believed these introverts would become brilliant leaders?

Being an introvert in an extroverted world means that the majority of people don't always get you. If someone has such brilliant ideas, why not master that skill of presentation so your ideas can be heard? Turns out more confident people are not necessarily more knowledgable. And while introverts and extroverts are equally smart, it's the introverts that stay longer on a problem to solve it. Situations where persistence pays off is where the introverts shine.

I've been wanting to read Susan Cain's "Quiet, the power of introverts in a world that can't stop talking" ever since I saw her TED talk. In her interviews with members of the Asian American community, she writes "Asians prize quiet, humility, and sensitivity, which fosters group cohesion"...characteristics usually associated with introverts. As an Asian American, I found myself saying (mentally) "Yes, that IS what we do!" as if it took an outsider to put into words something I already knew but couldn't express. And somehow it seems writing like this could only come from an introvert. Cain herself is not Asian American, yet she manages to encapsulate our culture without the heavy hand of her own experience. You see, introverts are generally better at listening, and we desperately need a balance of that. A world where everyone is talking confidently with no one listening is just...noise.

What looks to Westerners like Asian deference, in other words, is actually a deeply felt concern for the sensibilities of others...Within this indirect tradition it might be labeled 'relationship honouring.' And relationship honoring leads to social dynamics that can seem remarkable from a Western perspective.

I've been thinking about how the coronavirus has moved so differently throughout the world when you take into consideration the cultural differences at play. Is it safer in Asia because they intrinsically value the group over individual? The Swedish and Norwegians are able to enjoy going out without a full lockdown because they fully trust authority, so how does that differ with Americans' value of individual freedom? What does individual freedom mean when the cost is placed more heavily on other members of the group, such as the elderly and immunocompromised?

It seems counterintuitive that introverts are the ones who value relationships when many assume we just don't like people. We like people--we just like them in smaller digestible bites where we are able to give each individual our full attention. If you're an introvert struggling in this extroverted world, don't change who you are. The world needs to change.

The trick for introverts is to honor their own styles instead of allowing themselves to be swept up by prevailing norms.

And when we wake up to a new day, I hope tomorrow's workforce will see that they need as many listeners as they do talkers.