Monday, 3 August 2015

Introverts can be both good workers and leaders


Reminiscing about my recent Raya celebration with some childhood acquaintances and former colleagues in Sibu, Sarawak, one of the things that did not change was the warm welcoming feeling my family felt when visiting them.

While many of them were inquisitive about global happenings, they are quite happy and in fact preferred to stay and make a living in Sibu.

The two days of Raya were enjoyable. However, many of my old colleagues were as reserved as ever, preferring to listen than to talk.

A good description of their behavior is that they are "introverts".

Contrary to popular belief, introverts are not persons who are shy but prefer to listen and enjoy thinking and exploring on ideas in any situation, conversation or group undertaking.

Extroverts on the other hand are outspoken individuals who talk through their thoughts, outgoing, assertive, bold, and are at times even domineering.

The observation that I made about my childhood friends and ex-colleagues strikes me as something that would never have crossed my mind, especially with regards to people management.

The question that arose in my mind is have we been ignoring the introverts in our workplaces and depriving them of workplace advancement and leadership positions?

Customarily, in the workplace, extrovert leaders tend to stand out, be recognized and even rewarded. Businesses have not even realized that in certain circumstances, introvert leaders can be more effective.

Research has shown that groups of passive workers are better led by extrovert leaders, while proactive teams were found to have performed better when led by introverts.

This is so as proactive workers are naturally self-confident needing less direction and prefer a leader who is less assertive, but more participative.

The introverted "quiet achievers" are more often pushed to the background by their silent nature, while the extrovert workers who are more visible will get all the attention and reap most if not all the rewards.

Organizations that fail to recognize this human nature in their workplace would not be able to maximize the potential output their establishment has to offer.

By fostering a work environment where people are encouraged and feel free to speak up and be proactive, the organization is creating the right place for introvert leaders and workers to surface and contribute.

Japan has historically and culturally embraced introverts.

Asian societies, particularly the rural populace, are generally introverts placing a high value on remaining calm, well-mannered, attentive and paying attention to details in their social fabric.

Malaysia's rapid industrialization has seen urban migration into established industrial zones.

The local automotive sector for one has drawn the rural population into cities seeking jobs and many are involved in the vehicle assembly lines and vendors' component production.

Perhaps being introverts, as a legacy of their rural heritage, these workers may shy away from contributing ideas in the workplace that could lead improved performance or better business practices.

The introvert nature of these automotive sector employees may retard the competitive drive that the automotive industry is so keen to foster. This phenomenon may require examination and resolution by industry managers and leaders before the automotive sector can reach its full potential.

We often expect corporate executives to conform to certain extrovert characters in order to lead and face the challenges ahead, but there are many introvert chief executive officers (CEOs) who are successfully able to push their organizations to greater heights.


These introvert CEOs are non-confrontational in handling conflicting issues, believing that "silence can sometimes be the most eloquent reply" on issues raised.

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