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5 big myths about introverts in IT
Does IT have more introverts than any other department? We bust the most common myths about IT introverts – to help leaders tap the full potential of all team members
One of the most enduring perceptions of the IT organization is that it’s full of introverts. However, the belief that the technology group is inhabited by a legion of stuttering Milton Waddams-types, clinging to their Swingline staplers for comfort, is misguided on a couple of fronts.
First, few individuals – in IT or anywhere else – exhibit the most extreme tendencies of introversion – or extroversion. Indeed, most experts believe that such personality traits exist on a spectrum, and the majority of us may actually be ambiverts who fall somewhere in the middle.
Second, most IT departments have no greater representation of introversion than any other function in the organization. “It’s a misperception that introverts tend to be technology professionals,” says Margery Myers, a consultant and coach with Bates Communications who works with CIOs and other corporate leaders on executive communication. “I’ve met introverts in sales, for example, who do very well in their roles.”
Here are a few more misguided notions that CIOs and other IT leaders and managers can disabuse themselves of – in order to recognize the full value of their more introverted team members.
1. Introverts can’t be good leaders
This is undoubtedly one of the biggest misunderstandings about introverts across that board – the idea that they can’t lead effectively.
While introverts may have to overcome a strong cultural bias, in many cases, introverted leaders deliver better outcomes than their extroverted counterparts, according to research conducted by Adam Grant, psychologist and professor of management at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and co-authors Francesca Gino of Harvard Business School and David Hofmann of the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School.
Susan Cain, author of the best-seller "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking" has pointed out that some of the world’s most transformative leaders were introverts, from Gandhi and Rosa Parks, to Douglas Conant of Campbell Soup and Larry Page at Google.
“A significant portion of CEOs and senior executives are introverts,” adds Myers, pointing out that these leaders are not necessarily the retiring types at work. “They learn how to put their ‘extrovert on’ in their day-to-day roles.” Sometimes, extroversion, in the form of controlling energies, domination, not listening, or winging it, can get in a leader’s way.
In many situations, more reflective leaders will outperform their more dominant or assertive peers. “Their gift of being able to think before speaking can be incredibly valuable at times of conflict at work,” says Ryan Scott, CTO at Atlanta-based DNA Behavior International, a behavioral training, consulting, and technology provider.
2. Introverts don’t like to speak up or contribute
“Just because [introverts tend to] think before speaking doesn’t mean they don’t have something to say,” says Myers. CIOs who want to get the most from their introverted team members will give them time to consider a question or issue before talking, to observe a situation before acting, or even give them a 15-minute heads up before asking them to switch from one task to another.
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Before meetings, it can particularly helpful to send out a clear agenda of what will be addressed or questions that will need answers, to give introverts adequate time to consider the issues. Alternately, leaders can gather written input and put it on a whiteboard or flipchart so everyone can discuss, then actively facilitate the meeting to make sure everyone has the opportunity to provide input. All of these actions “serve the purpose of bringing out the people that like to think about things in advance,” says Myers. “It also has the added benefit of putting some guardrails around the extroverts who want to ad lib or dominate the discussion.”
3. Introverts don't take risks
“As an IT leader one of the big myths is that introverts cannot lead change and innovate,” says Hugh Massie, founder & president DNA Behavior International. “Based on our research in 2017, a greater proportion of the greatest IT leaders fueling change and building the biggest businesses are introverted.”
In fact, Cain argues in her book that introverts are just as likely to take risks as extroverts, but – not surprisingly – they prefer calculated risks. Whereas extroverts may seek more instant gratification or be willing to jump on new opportunities, Cain notes that the more methodical and deliberate approach of the introvert may yield better decisions and more consistent results.
4. Introverts are not socially adept
Introverts are not necessarily shy nor will they always seek to avoid social situations or networking. In fact, many are quite adept at public speaking, socializing, and building networks. Introverts can be highly attuned to the environment around them and great at reading a room, says Myers. The only difference is they may need to prepare more for or recharge after very social situations.
5. Introverts can't adapt
“One of the biggest myths is that introversion is fixed. Or that it’s some sort of ‘condition’ that requires special understanding and acceptance,” says Myers. “It’s no different than extroversion.”
In fact, when Carl Jung first introduced the idea, his assertion was that a person has a bit of both introversion and extroversion at varying levels. “Most people are on a scale of introversion,” says Myers. “Some days, they show up more as extroverts and some days more as introverts, depending upon how they are feeling and who is in the room.”
Even more importantly, introverts can – and do – learn to build their extrovert capabilities, Myers says. (Extroverts do the reverse).
Both introverts and extroverts who want to climb the corporate ladder, for example, have to exhibit “executive presence” – something that doesn’t necessarily come naturally to either an introvert or extrovert, but which both people can learn to master. “It’s fundamentally about confidence,” Myers says, “not the confidence you have in yourself, but the confidence you inspire in others. Both introverts and extroverts can learn to develop that.”
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