The Introvert’s Path To Success: Learn To Act Like An Extrovert

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I have written about my introversion several times in the past. I struggle with it, especially since I moved out of engineering and into the business side of the world. I've learned to live in an extroverted world and have even been called a "closet extrovert" because if someone brings up business as a topic of discussion I will end up talking for hours. But it always wears me out.

I recently stumbled across a research paper that examined the extroversion of Fortune 1000 executives. The author admits that the response rate was not as large as he had hoped, but enough people responded to develop some interesting insights into the introvert/extrovert gap at work. The study found that executives leaned to the extroverted side quite a bit, but that even those who were introverted at home showed extroverted communication patterns at work.

Thus, 65.9% of the executives indicated that in the home environment they were extroverted, while 22.7% indicated they were introverted. If we divide the 11.4% who scored in the middle between the two, there were 71.6% extroverts to 28.4% introverts. That is pretty close to the national average, which runs about 75% extroverts to 25% introverts.

However, the scores in the workplace environment were different. Only 4 respondents (9.1%) did not score as extroverts in the workplace environment. Two of those actually scored a 0, placing them right in the middle. Thus, only 2 (4.55%) of the respondents scored as introverts in the workplace environment (scores were -3 and -8). Thirty-nine of the respondents (88.6%) scored as more extroverted (or less introverted) in the workplace than in the home. Clearly there is something to the importance of extroversion in the workplace. Of the five who did not score more extroverted at work, three scored the same for both environments. The other two were extroverts at home and did not have significant differences for the workplace environment (9 at home and 8 at work, 10 at home and 8 at work). To be successful in one's career, then, it appears necessary to be flexible with the ability to adapt to the environment, especially if one is introverted.

I'm not surprised by this, as it is something I have found in my own career path. I am not particularly shy, so I don't mind interacting with people and trying to be extroverted, but it does have side effects. For instance, Mrs. Businesspundit and I will go to a function and before we arrive she will be tired and I will feel fine. After two hours, she is pumped up and ready to stay late into the night while I am exhausted and ready to go home.

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Getting back to the paper, one respondent in the study put it this way:

Leadership demands visible leaders who are adroit at keeping quiet in order to learn and engaging in order to provoke further thought and performance. Good leaders, of whom I have personally known a few, are not intimidated or embarrassed by their own mistakes or lack of thorough understanding. They are constantly redefining their own strategies. I believe good leaders move between extroversion and introversion depending upon the subject, the setting (work/outside work) and the need to settle conflict and choose a course.

So there you have it. If you want to be successful in your career, learn to act more extroverted. (Assuming that promotions, higher salary, etc. fit your definition of success)

The thing that I am most curious about after reading this study is how adaptability affects career paths. After all, for an extroverted tech company manager there may be as much value in adopting an introverted style in certain situations as there is value for an introverted manager to adopt an extroverted style. Perhaps career success is less about where you fall on the extrovert/introvert line and more about how adaptable you are to the diverse group of situations you face as you climb the corporate hierarchy.