I am proud and happy to say that I am an introvert. Not shy, but an introvert, although I definitely avoid initiating conversations either with strangers or with friendlies. But definitely far away from the extrovert end of the introvert-extrovert continuum. Very close to being fully-introverted I would say, except as this Economist article says, I have trained myself to behave as an extrovert sometimes as my professional role requires me to be, and far more rarely when my personal roles require me to be.
Why am I so sure where I am on this continuum? Let me give some not-necessarily-very-psychologically-scientific reasons. I don’t like making small talk, either at the workplace or at home. I don’t like lunch with colleagues either for the same reason. I ran out of conversations to have 2-3 years back and since then I have just been having lunch at my desk. I prefer to use that time to finish a meeting that I am already in, or to watch a 10-15 video, or read something (although admittedly that’s more difficult to manage).
I hate parties and weddings. Weddings I might still attend 1-2 a year (like an immediate neighbour or a close family), but for the life of me, I can’t remember the last time I attended a “just-get-together-sort-of” party. I just realized that it’s very unlikely that I would get invited to a party in the first place considering that my social circle is very limited; can literally count them on my fingers. In fact, I was aghast when I got invited to a 40-year old friend’s birthday party recently, but was relieved immensely when I walked in to find that the theme was board-games and that there were 5-6 of them that you could play. I spent the rest of the party playing pick up sticks and scrabble.
I am almost never interested in any gossip or random chit chat about the weather. I am not interested in listening to funny / sorry stories of which family member / friends or even colleagues did what, unless of course I am asked for inputs or it impacts work or me. I am very happy to be alone for hours or even days. I always have an agenda of things to do: books to read, movies to watch, notes, ideas to work on. All I need is food. The only regular social interactions that I have are related to Ultimate Frisbee, and that too limited to the club that I play with when we have a meal together, or we are discussing strategy or team related stuff. Other than that even with respect to Ultimate, I don’t attend tournament parties or have general chit chat sessions.
I could go on about why I am introverted. But here I wanted to expand upon the need to understand introversion better at the workplace. Some leaders who are extroverted tend to think that everyone in their team should behave like them, go out on team outings, be jovial in general and should “gell well” with the team. But they fail to understand that being introverted means a natural tendency to avoid social interactions and therefore avoid the kind of behaviours listed above. And no, just because you are an introvert doesn’t mean that you can’t be a great teacher or have great interactions with students. When I teach, I play a role. I am humorous at occasions, serious and focused on others. Relaxed most of the times, and reprimanding when needed.
Leaders need to understand that everyone doesn’t like a chit chat, guffawing at silly jokes at the lunch table, or being enthusiastic about putting together a surprise party for a colleague. Most introverts would also not like to hang out with colleagues outside of work as in general, they prefer their own company. For sure they don’t want to be part of granfaloons even if they don’t access to karasses (love these terms coined by Kurt Vonnegut).
And I have no doubts that introverts can offer a lot more, especially in terms of thought leadership. As Stephen Hawking says, “Quiet people have the loudest minds“. And that happens because introverts spend a lot of time in reflection and creation rather than social interactions and consumption (and I ain’t making a judgement there). Of course, the degree of introversion is a on a continuum and people may be “ambiverts” behaving slightly / significantly differently in different situations. But as leaders, it’s important to recognise that everyone around us need not behave in extroverted ways and to expect that is to kill diversity of thought as well as emotion!
So let the introverts of the world prosper by giving them work environments that they prefer, and they will provide their unique brand of leadership that all institutions can benefit from.