Why introverts are far more likely to excel in their chosen career path

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Kayleigh Dray
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Introvert at work

This World Introvert Day (2 January), it’s time to challenge the assumption that being loud and extroverted is the only way to achieve success.

In a world full of big personalities, opinions and voices, being an introvert is often seen as a disadvantage. After all, the extroverts of the world are typically viewed as charismatic, confident and comfortable in their own skin – all the positive personality traits we tend to associate with the most successful of people.

However scientists have now, thanks to 10 years of careful observation, research, and analysis, proven that it is, in fact, the quiet introverts who make the most successful CEOs.

The CEO Genome Project has analysed the personalities of 2,000 CEOs, alongside their career history, business results, and behavioural patterns. Researchers then sifted through that information in a bid to work out what set apart the leaders from the followers, as well as those who excelled into the role from those who under performed.

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The results were startling – and shattered the pervasive stereotype that a loud, charismatic, well educated individual is more suited to the role of CEO.

“We’ve been struck by how few of the successful leaders we’ve encountered fit [the] profile,” said CEO Genome Project founder Elena Lytkina Botelho to the Harvard Business Review. “Our analysis revealed that while boards often gravitate toward charismatic extroverts, introverts are slightly more likely to surpass the expectations of their boards and investors.”

Woman at work
The benefits of being an introvert: introverts are more likely to succeed than extroverts - but why?

Yes, high confidence more than doubles a candidate’s chances of being chosen as CEO – but that doesn’t mean they’re going to be any good at it. In fact, the researchers found that an extroverted personality “provides no advantage in performance on the job”.

So what really sets apart the merely good from the truly great business leaders of the world?

Well, scientists found that there are four main behavioural traits that are most likely to signify success – and a great chief executive will demonstrate at least one of them.

They are:

1. The ability to make decisions quickly and with conviction
2. Being insightful and focused on delivering business results
3. Being highly adaptable and open to change
4. Delivering steady and reliable results, as opposed to irregular peaks of success

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Botelho added: “In their first weeks on the job, reliable CEOs resist the temptation to jump into execution mode. They dig into budgets and plans, and engage with board members, employees, and customers to understand expectations.

“At the same time, they rapidly assess the business to develop their own point of view on what’s realistic and work to align expectations with that.”

Or, to put it more simply, they rely on their unique traits as an introvert (aka their inner reserve, composure, calmness, awareness of others, cautiousness, sensitivity, good listening skills, and preference for deep conversations over small talk) to get things done slowly, carefully, and, above all else, successfully.

Botelho also revealed that “virtually all CEO candidates had made material mistakes in the past, and 45% of them had had at least one major career blow-up that ended a job or was extremely costly to the business”.

Introverts in the workplace
The benefits of being an introvert: introverts' unique characteristics lead them to success.

Despite this, an overwhelming 78% went on to win the top jobs – proving that big mistakes don’t have to be the end of your career, so long as you learn from them.

After examining the data, researchers concluded – positively – that “leadership success is not a function of unalterable traits”. Which means that anyone can learn how to be a great CEO, so long as they put their mind to it.

“While there is certainly no “one size fits all” approach,” said Botelho, “focusing on these essential behaviours will improve both a board’s likelihood of choosing the right CEO—and an individual leader’s chances of succeeding in the role.”

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Images: Getty

This article was originally published in April 2017.


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Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.

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