Introverts succeed at business

Published 9:16 pm Wednesday, February 1, 2012

My high school class voted me quietest.
So Time magazine’s Feb. 6 cover, “The Power of Shyness” — about the supposed upside of being an introvert and why extroverts are overrated — caught my eye.
Especially when Tokyo bureau chief Bryan Walsh starts his six-page piece in the bathroom of the American embassy, ducking the ambassador’s holiday party where diplomats, U.S. military personnel and reporters mingle and make mindless small talk over champagne and hors d’oeuvres.
It reminded me of when I was in Detroit to see a pair of Pulitzer Prize-winning reporters and it was obvious one was an introvert while the other was an extrovert.
I never thought in those terms with presidential politics, but incumbent Barack Obama, a former academic and writer, tends toward introverted.
Obama told Fareed Zakaria he prefers spending limited free time with his family to Washington parties.
He’s been criticized as too timid and risk-averse, but he hasn’t endangered his presidency with an intern (Bill Clinton) or an Iraq invasion (George W. Bush).
President John F. Kennedy underestimated Cuban opposition to the Bay of Pigs.
Republican candidates Mitt Romney and Ron Paul are introverts.
Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum are extroverts.
I found the chart of extroverts interesting because I have personally seen Clinton work a rope line, met Muhammad Ali and Bush and am reading a book about Steve Jobs (Margaret Thatcher, Boris Yeltsin, Marie Antoinette and Winston Churchill are other notable extroverts). Yet the only introvert my path has crossed was Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Sept. 11, 1992, with her husband at the University of Notre Dame.
Not Mohandas Gandhi, Joe DiMaggio, Moses, Warren Buffett, Google’s Larry Page, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Bill Gates, Mother Teresa, Jonas Salk, Marie Curie or Neil Armstrong.
I learned a lot about the science of this continuum (“ambiverts” make up the middle), such as temperament being inborn and inherited.
Which means while I’m circumspect and sensitive to my environment, I have been scolded countless times for being too quiet in this glad-handing society that equates loud, brash and bold with beautiful and found myself at a distinct disadvantage with teachers who grade on classroom participation.
By some estimates 30 percent of all people inhabit the introverted end of the spectrum, which does not have to mean shyness, a form of anxiety characterized by inhibited behavior and crippling fear of social judgment.
Introverts just prefer to be alone or in small groups and find exhausting the social scene which energizes extroverts.
The world seems slanted in favor of the outgoing norm, from classrooms built around group learning to office meetings where quality work can be buried behind voice volume.
Shy, introverted people succumb more rapidly to diseases and are more at risk for depression. But there are some advantages. Fewer Facebook friends, but deeper, more rewarding relationships. Caution, contemplation and deliberation help think things through more thoroughly.
You didn’t think the “in” crowd crashed the economy in 2008 did you?
Introverts excel at listening, which is perhaps why so many find journalism.
I think I’ve worked for more introverted publishers than extroverts, who are injury-prone, poorer gamblers and more likely to have affairs.
Introverts can sit still and focus, finding it easier to spend long periods in solitary work, which a variety of studies concur is the best way to master a skill and a better way to generate fresh ideas than brainstorming.
Most surprising, in light of what I thought I knew about this topic, introverted CEOs are the business leaders of the future because they mesh best with empowered, independent workers.
Extroverted execs are preferable for the old model of employees taking orders. But in our faster-paced service-and-knowledge economy, it’s harder for leaders to anticipate every threat or opportunity.