Introverted bosses: Calm people are less likely to have careers

Leadership trainer Daniela Fink (left) and business psychologist Ingrid Gerstbach.

Nina Schöner / Budiono Nguyen

Just think about your boss for a moment. What is he or she like? Calm and thoughtful? Or energetic and engaging? For most of you, the latter is more likely to be the case, at least that’s what psychological research suggests. Because those who have an extroverted personality are more likely to get into management positions, as various studies have shown. Statistically speaking, people who are sociable, energetic, dominant, and enthusiastic have a better chance of getting the boss’s chair.

That extroverts rightly occupy the most top positions, so that they actually do better ones Executives are more introverted than their colleagues – this has by no means been proven. There are even people who have serious doubts about it. One of these people is Ingrid Gerstbach, business psychologist and coach from Vienna. Gerstbach says: “I am of the opinion that there are too few introverted executives.”

“The louder, the better” is the motto in the job when ideas are pitched, strategies are discussed or positions are negotiated. “The problem in our society is that we celebrate more the makers and designers who are always moving forward with their ideas,” says Gerstbach. Of course, these people are also important, after all, in every company there has to be someone who can represent the team well to the outside world, someone who is charismatic, motivating and inspiring. But: “I know many examples where it only works on stage. This is often more appearance than reality, ”says Gerstbach. The real strength of a leader is often completely different: in thinking and in thoughtful action.

“Old misconception” that bosses have to be particularly loud

She is convinced that introverts can do both better. “They are good listeners, observe very astutely and are more careful with feedback because they think first before they speak out loud,” explains Gerstbach. And this is how superiors could best support their employees: By showing an authentic interest in them, building trust, and asking the right questions. Introverted bosses succeed better than extroverts in getting to the bottom of possible problems or insecurities of their employees, says Gerstbach.

These qualities mean that introverted bosses are usually very popular with their employees, says the Cologne-based leadership trainer Daniela Fink. Among the executives who come to coach her are both introverts and extroverts. In their experience, the latter often act quickly, risk-taking and instinctively. “In many situations, however, it is better to think and weigh up first, as introverts do. The team members really appreciate that, ”says Fink. It is an “old misconception” that executives must above all be loud and particularly sociable. “Such people may be more easily noticed at first – but they no longer embody the typical manager.”

For this reason, the coach also advises against introverts pretending to be. “If an introvert tries constantly to make himself an extrovert, even though he is reluctant to do so, then at some point he will burn out,” she says. The same also applies to extroverts, by the way: It can take a lot of effort for them to be more cautious than they actually are.

Introversion is not the same as being shy

So introverts are at least as good bosses as extroverts. The only problem is: they are less likely to get into top positions where they can demonstrate their leadership skills. At least business psychologist Ingrid Gerstbach sees this dilemma. “Unfortunately, introverts are not at the top as often – because it is more difficult for them to get there than for extroverts,” she says.

There are several reasons for this. One lies in the personality of the introverts themselves. “When someone is very introverted, he or she often does not have the ambition to fight their way forward. Especially not when he has to pass many extroverts on the way, ”says Gerstbach. In her experience, introverts often rely on others to recognize their talent and then encourage them.

What makes it more difficult for introverts is that they are usually more interested in the content of their work – an idea or a project – and not so much in being the center of attention themselves. Others often misinterpret this behavior. “Introvertedness is often equated with shyness,” says Ingrid Gerstbach. “But the reserved nature of introverts does not come from the fact that they are afraid or do not dare to speak – but rather that they focus more on content than on presentation.”

Supervisors need to empathize with introverted employees

But it’s not just their own nature that often makes it difficult for introverts to get into a leadership position. The system often runs against them too. Because: “Both extroverted and introverted managers tend to encourage employees who are similar to them,” explains Ingrid Gerstbach. And because the extroverts have the say in most management levels, there tends to be more extroverted employees. To change this mechanism, more extroverted bosses would have to demonstrate their emotional intelligence. After all, once a manager has empathized with an introverted employee and understood that he or she may be calm but has great talent – then it is much more likely that this manager will also support the employee on his or her way up.

It would certainly be worthwhile to do something about this and to pave the way for more introverts to the top management. But despite all their skills – introverted bosses also have disadvantages. “Working only with introverts can be exhausting,” says coach Daniela Fink. “Especially extroverted and fast employees can sometimes be annoyed by very calm and thoughtful executives and then think: ‘Wow, he’s slow‘ “, she explains. Extroverted bosses are less likely to have such a problem, caused by a lack of enthusiasm, assertiveness and energy.

Introverts can also present themselves more offensively

However, nobody is one hundred percent introverted or extroverted. We are all on a scale, somewhere between the two extremes. So it is possible for more extroverts to learn better listening. And for introverts it is not unthinkable to present yourself more offensively from time to time. This is easier for them, for example, if they are a founder themselves – because then they usually believe in the mission of their company, they identify very strongly with the content of their work. If that is the case, says Ingrid Gerstbach, it is easier for introverts to advertise themselves.

Incidentally, this also applies to the business psychologist herself. She says about herself that she is an introvert. Nevertheless, Gerstbach is often in public, she is a book author and, for example, regularly gives lectures. Every time she jumps over her shadow until she does enjoy speaking in front of an audience – because she believes in her cause, she says.


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