Most people think outwardness and confidence go hand in hand. From heavily socialized classrooms to open floor plan offices, western society grooms extroverted tendencies and then scans for those same traits when teasing out the leaders from the followers—believing that introverts aren’t as confident as their extroverted counterparts.
But when our researchers surveyed people on what they envision as positive leadership attributes, the terms that commonly surfaced: Calm, diplomatic, controlled, good listeners, actually pointed towards traits that are more typically associated with introverted tendencies—proving that confidence and introversion may actually be more linked than you think.
Here’s why the extroverted-leaning confidence bias is a myth:
- Loud doesn’t (always) equal confident
There are several “confidence impostors” and one of them is cockiness: Overcompensating for a lack of confidence by outwardly bolstering your own self-image. While not all loud ideas are cocky ones, louder confidence is typically used as a display for others, rather than an indication of inner self-worth. And as a confidence imposter, this behavior often serves as a smokescreen for people who are easily won over by a false show of self-confidence that actually indicates a lack thereof.
- Quiet does not equal shy
There is a key difference between “shy” and “introverted”. If someone is shy, this means that they are nervous around others, whereas if someone is introverted, they simply prefer to process things inwardly and recharge on their own. While these two terms are often conflated, the self-doubt that accompanies shyness is not unanimously evident amongst introverts. In fact, when called upon to exit their personal processing space, an introvert can often emerge with confidently prepared thoughts and ideas.
- Introverts can make excellent leaders
Introverts are less likely to emerge as leaders in the extroverted-favoring structures set up for them today. This often fosters self-doubt (also known as negative affective forecasting) when it comes to assuming leadership roles, because they’re less likely to self-promote, and their strongest traits don’t usually match up with perceived leadership ideals. Once they do take on leadership roles, however, introverts tend to embody a wealth of valuable leadership traits and exhibit a unique brand of “servant leadership” which has actually been linked to increased engagement and lower turnover rates amongst their teams.
So, before you write introversion off as a lack of self-confidence, remember that our views of confidence are filtered through the structures we’ve been trained to assess it by and that these constructs only skim the surface of true confidence—while dismissing the potential and value of the quiet confidence that could lie beneath it.
Special thanks to Elior Moskowitz for her research and editorial contribution to this post.