I recently spent time in a group with a public leader who is very clearly an introvert. Whenever it was her turn to speak, she would pause to think about what to say. People would hang on each sentence, waiting to see what was said. It was clearly a struggle for some in the room not to jump in and interrupt.
This experience drove home to me the fact that we live in a world organized and run by extroverts. By “extrovert” I mean the term according to the definition used by the Myers Briggs Type Indicator, a widely used psychological profiling tool. An extrovert is not necessarily loud and boorish – an extrovert gains their energy from interactions with others. (Here is a video about how this all works.)
By the same token, an introvert is not necessarily shy – an introvert gains their energy from being alone. Think of it this way: An extrovert recharges by being with people; an introvert recharges by seeking seclusion. Most studies I have read show that there are more extroverts than introverts in the world. Some peg the share of introverts at 25%. (To be fair, some studies say it’s more 50-50.)
Regardless of the numbers, extroverts have set the social norms in society. Jonathan Rauch has written the definitive column on this subject. Being outgoing is seen as friendly and positive. Being silent is seen as being “aloof” or arrogant. An outgoing extrovert has to cross a definite line before they are seen as irritating; whereas, for an introvert, not speaking creates a presumption of disinterest.
But, a major change is afoot. Social media has leveled the playing field somewhat. You don’t have to be an extrovert to be outgoing.
This is opening up public leadership to new people. Success does not need to come with schmoozing and glad-handing, it can come through effective sharing and diligently working online networks.
It will not work for everybody, but it is already beginning to work for some.