Who says introverts are shrinking violets who lack social skills?
These seven leaders in politics, business, and tech are among some of the most influential people of our time, proving that you don’t have to be the loudest voice in the room to be heard.
Being commander-in-chief seems like an introvert’s worst nightmare. But even though President Obama has caught criticism for his aloof personality, he’s leveraged introvert’s natural capacity for thoughtful communication.
Even though it’s a different style than many on Capitol Hill, introspection and introversion has its advantages that extroversion can’t compete with. As columnist David Brooks puts it, “Being led by Barack Obama is like being trumpeted into battle by Miles Davis. He makes you want to sit down and discern.”
“I don’t think he doesn’t like people. I know he doesn’t like people. He’s not an extrovert; he’s an introvert,” said political journalist John Heilemann. “I’ve known the guy since 1988. He’s not someone who has a wide circle of friends. He’s not a backslapper and he’s not an arm-twister. He’s a more or less solitary figure who has extraordinary communicative capacities.”
The Yahoo CEO has seen a lot of media attention lately, but she insists that the spotlight is not her style. “Mayer often ‘talks about how she is naturally shy and introverted,’ and yet modern media ignores it and paints her as an extrovert instead,” according to Elle magazine, in their own list of introverted female leaders.
While her introverted personality may make her want to run and hide at parties, she’s successful in part because she forces herself to stay in situations that may make her uncomfortable at first. In her interview with Vogue, she reveals how making it look easy is hard work:
She suffers from shyness, she says, and has had to discipline herself to deal with it. For the first 15 minutes she wants to leave any party, including one in her own home. “I will literally look at my watch and say, ‘You can’t leave until time X,'” she says. “‘And if you’re still having a terrible time at time X, you can leave.'” She has learned that if she makes herself stay for a fixed period, she often gets over her social awkwardness and ends up having fun.
If there’s question of whether introverts can be world-class successes, the business magnate is “a classic example of an introvert taking careful, well-calibrated risks,” says Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts. The noise of a trading floor is a thrill for extroverts, but introverts take more calculated risks.
Buffett said in a 2004 Berkshire Hathaway letter to investors:
“Investors should remember that excitement and expenses are their enemies. And if they insist on trying to time their participation in equities, they should try to be fearful when others are greedy and greedy only when others are fearful.”
Stepping in recent years out of the shadow of her presidential, boisterous husband, she’s has met criticism for being an overly guarded public figure.
“People assume that everything she does has some core meaning that has implications for her potential presidency or her character,” writes Michael Melcher. “But sometimes Hillary is just being an introvert, and that’s that.”
Like President Obama, Clinton’s private nature helps her deal with media and political storms carefully, instead of impulsively. From the New York Times:
Invoking a mantra attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt, Mrs. Clinton likes to say that women in politics “need to develop skin as tough as a rhinoceros hide… I joke that I have the scars to show from my experiences,” she said in an interview. “But you know, our scars are part of us, and they are a reminder of the experiences we’ve gone through, and our history. I am constantly making sure that the rhinoceros skin still breathes. And that’s a challenge that all of us face. But again, not all of us have to live it out in public.”
You might not expect the founder of the social network to be reserved, but Zuckerberg is a classic introvert. “He is shy and introverted and he often does not seem very warm to people who don’t know him, but he is warm,” Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg told the New York Times. She has offered social and political guidance to balance to Zuck’s less-charismatic personality. “He really cares about the people who work here.”
It’s collaborative, genuine connections that make him a persuasive CEO, rather than keeping a wide swath of people under his thumb, are examples of how introverts are valuable employees–and great leaders. From Fast Company’s July/August cover story:
The fact that Zuckerberg can more often than not persuade startup founders to join the company and work with him is a vote for the glass-half-full perspective. “What I found compelling was Mark’s commitment to spending a lot of time with us,” says Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe.
The “Godfather of Silicon Valley” and chief evangelist of Canva, Kawasaki looks the picture of extroversion–even giving talks on enchantment–but he’s a self-proclaimed introvert.
Like others on this list, the spotlight role he’s in is just part of the job. Kawasaki told Cain: “I look upon many of my activities as a role thrust upon me–not ‘me’ per se. It’s like being an actor–you don’t have to be an axe murderer to play an axe murderer. And when the role is over, it’s over.”
The world’s richest man, Microsoft founder, and philanthropist is a little bit of both–he can be at turns “quiet and bookish,” or fiercely un-shy, says Cain, who pegs him as an introvert. But he’s outspoken and unphased when it comes down to business–typical of introverts, to hold to their passions tenaciously.
“Bill brings to the company the idea that conflict can be a good thing,” says Steve Ballmer, former Microsoft CEO in the Time biography . “Bill knows it’s important to avoid that gentle civility that keeps you from getting to the heart of an issue quickly. He likes it when anyone, even a junior employee, challenges him, and you know he respects you when he starts shouting back.”
The value of solitude and deep focus isn’t lost on him. Gates said in a speaking engagement last year:
I think introverts can do quite well. If you’re clever you can learn to get the benefits of being an introvert, which might be, say, being willing to go off for a few days and think about a tough problem, read everything you can, push yourself very hard to think out on the edge of that area.