04 Sep Shyness and leadership
All those times you’ve heard them tell you at school that “you’re good but you’re too shy, you never ask questions and you’ll never be the best“. All those times your friends went out and you did not have the courage to ask to join them. All those times you’ve never taken the first step. All those times during a business meeting where you would have liked to intervene but thought about it too long and lost your turn. All those times in which you surrounded yourself with a ‘white space’ made up of listening, reflection and meditation have helped mould you into a leader. History took its time but, in the end, it has recognized a common thread between great leaders and their innate shyness: today, many leadership themed articles or TED talks speak of the “power of shyness“. In the 1920s, Jung defined an introvert as someone who creates his/her own energy, rather than receiving it from others. Unlike extroverts (who receive energy from other people), introverts are typically introspective, calm, and alert. Even at work, shy people have a different approach compared to extroverts: they love being in small groups, they make complex reasoning before ‘taking a decision’, they learn by observing. None of us is completely shy or extroverted, we all have both these traits, though one of the two is usually more pronounced. In all leadership manuals we obviously read that a good leader must be extroverted. And if we ask recruiters if they can envision an introvert in the role of CEO, they would probably say no. However, this evaluation is sometimes the result of prejudices. None of these traits seem to be in contrast with the nature of introverts. Shy individuals can emerge as leaders in many fields: Michael Jordan, deemed as introverted, is undoubtedly the greatest sports star in history; Audrey Hepburn was one of Hollywood’s most famous actresses; Mahatma Gandhi led one of the greatest revolutions in Indian history. Even in business, some of the most successful founders, innovators, investors and technologists are introverted, including characters like Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Marissa Meyer. Shy people have all the credentials to drive complex teams and businesses differently from extroverts, but with equally effective results. And as for the times you were called out for being shy, well, take them as a great compliment, because your introversion, combined with intelligence, makes you a great leader.