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


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.

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.

  • hxa7241

    If you can, fine. But there is a limit to how much you should struggle to be what you are not.

  • T.

    Even though it seems like simple common sense, it really is important to remind people the importance of being extroverted. I’m the kind of person that’s good at being extroverted once I’m in the social situation. However, I have trouble motivating myself to attend said social events in the first place, much like you describe Ms. Businesspundit. I don’t know if thise social reluctance counts as introversion (is that word) or not since once I’m actually out I’m very outgoing.

  • Only 44 execs (out of what 1,000) responded? Huh… maybe those who were “too busy” or “who blocked the emails” are actualy so introverted that they won’t reveal their real self.

  • I think a good portion of it has to do also with the fact the executives are often placed in situations where they “have” to be social and extroverted.

    Naturally, I tend to sway toward being an introvert, and I typically sweat out the hours prior to knowing I need to be out there in public.

    However, once I’m “on”, I’m comfortable and could go for a while (assuming it’s working well) from the adrenaline rush.

    Guess I’m like Mrs. Businesspundit in that regard.

  • You are right on the money with the importance of adaptability, and natural versus learnt behaviour. The now widespread Belbin team role templates, that are so useful when composing teams, comes to the same conclusion.

    Being able to switch between natural and learnt team roles, between say chairing the team and being a team player, is the more important quality of gifted managers.

    Reference Meredith Belbin’s team roles research at the Henly Institute.

  • Intresting research but I hadn’t heard that the nation is roughly 75% extrovert and 25% introvert!

  • I left a successful career in a high-pressure field to do trading and blogging and, as in introvert, I love it. I also enjoyed Marti Laney’s brilliant book “The Introvert Advantage’ which I review here:

  • elle

    The phrase “Fake it Till You Make It” comes to mind. That’s what innies like me have to do. I am fortunate to be shy and introverted two things this extrovert-dominated society just loves. I was told earlier in the week that I had best change my personality somehow or risk being fired from my job. I was let go from a temporary job once for being “cold,” so my boss put it. At the time I recall being very shy and intimidated by her because she never said two words to me, yet she expected me to be the office gadfly buzzing about as her emissary, carrying news back to her. B*tch. But I’m no bitter. LOL. Anyway, I’ve come a long way actually. I started getting better jobs by faking extroversion. Now my challenge is to follow up all the e-mails I send by a face to face encounter and get back to my boss with every infinitesimal encounter I have. Because as some of you may know, the reserved nature of introverts is misinterpreted that we have nothing going on upstairs or that we’re not team players or whatever. Whatever…

  • Wow! So what I am doing is just normal to introverts; quiet, observant, and analyzes ideas before talking.
    I could learn from the author of the article and the contents of the article.
    Am also changed my course from Engineering to business world.