By Ankit Mahadevia
Can quiet leaders inspire others and get things done just as well as their louder, more social colleagues? I wish I could travel back in time and tell my younger self the answer to this question: “Yes, you can!”
When people think of the word “leader” they tend to think of someone extraverted—someone outgoing who’s genuinely fueled by social interaction. So, it’s not surprising that those of us who wish to lead and identify as quiet people tend to second guess and doubt ourselves. That doubt can hold us back from reaching for that promotion or starting that new organization.
I was always known as “the quiet one”—careful with my words, less comfortable in large groups, and never the loudest person in the room. Looking at everyone around me “in charge” that seemed to be comfortable dazzling large crowds, I thought only extroverts could lead. I felt I had two choices—don’t lead and grow in my career, or fake being an extravert. Faking it worked for a while until people saw through the act. If I wanted to grow, I needed to think differently.
Twenty years later, I’ve found a style that works for me. I’ve since built nine biotechnology companies, run by multiple high-performing teams. Through my experience, I’ve learned that quiet professionals can lead—they just need to lead differently. This realization inspired me to write Quiet Leader Loud Results. It’s a book by a quiet leader for quiet leaders who want practical advice on how to lead effectively in their authentic style.
You don’t need to just take my word for it. We can look at the world around us. Some of the most dynamic leaders in business and politics (Bill Gates and Barack Obama for example) are quiet leaders. We also can look at the data. Research supports how quiet leaders Adam Grant and colleagues followed managers at a pizza shop, finding that, for shops with motivated, proactive employees, quiet leaders drove 14% higher profits. Recent research reviewed in the Wall Street Journal found that extroverts may be more likely to emerge as leaders initially, but less likely to keep a consistent set of followers over time relative to their quiet counterparts.
This might seem counterintuitive. However, quiet leaders possess many strengths that they can leverage to lead effectively. These strengths include:
Ability to listen – One of the superpowers quiet people possess is the ability to listen more than they talk. Indeed, why quiet leaders often hold onto their followers for longer is that their personalities more naturally lend themselves to their colleagues feeling heard and their opinions valued. Further, an ability to listen deeply means that quiet leaders can get the most out of their interactions with others and derive meaning from interactions that others may not.
Capacity to reflect deeply — Neuroscientific studies suggest that quiet people have more neuronal activity in the centers that control learning, planning, and information processing. Quiet leaders are more apt to reflect internally as they process information and make decisions, and that tendency toward deep thought can yield better decisions and more creative ones.
Internal locus of control – Several psychological studies have shown that quiet people are more influenced by internal consideration and reflection, and less so by external stimuli and interaction. This internal locus of control lends itself to several qualities valued in leaders. First, a leader less influenced by others and outside events earn a perception of steadfastness that others look to particularly in tough times. Second, a leader who can access their inner thoughts amidst the noise is often able to deliver on creative ideas others may not see. Some of the most creative people in the world (Albert Einstein, for example) identify as introverts.
These elements are just some examples of the strengths quiet leaders can bring that can make them effective as they build and drive organizations forward. Of course, there are other traits quiet leaders must account for and overcome as they practice leadership as well.
You may be at a crossroads where many quiet leaders find themselves—exhausted because you’re trying to lead in the way contemporary culture expects you to. Even worse, society tells us that quiet leaders aren’t as desirable as extroverted ones. Why not let “the naturals” do it and find another role within the organization? It is because quiet leaders can be extremely effective leaders; they just need to lead differently. Indeed, the next time you question if you, as a quiet person, can really lead, remember that both quiet leaders and extroverts can be equally effective leaders, and in some very important circumstances, quiet leaders can be even more effective.
About The Author
Ankit Mahadevia is the author of Quiet Leader, Loud Results: How Quiet Leaders Drive Outcomes that Speak for Themselves (Post Hill/Simon & Schuster). Founder and CEO of Spero Therapeutics and eight other companies, his "quiet leadership" has resulted in multiple awards for their culture, including Boston Business Journal’s “Best Places to Work” Award and Glassdoor’s “Top 50 CEOs of 2021” (#15 nationwide).
Learn more about Quiet Leader, Loud Results here: https://www.amazon.com/Quiet-Leader-Loud-Results-Themselves/dp/1637582897