I’m determined to bust the myth that only extroverts can be successful in the business world. If I had a dollar for every time someone told me I was “quiet” when I was growing up, I’d be writing this from my private villa in Bora Bora while sipping a cocktail featuring one of those little umbrellas.
I’ve seen research indicating that one-third to half of the U.S. population are introverts—that’s one out of every two or three people. Carl Jung, who came up with the theory on introverted and extroverted personality types, noted that none of us are completely extroverted or introverted. We are all on a spectrum, each of us having a different combination of introversion and extroversion. Personally, I hate labels and unfortunately the word “introvert” used to have a negative connotation in our society. While introverts were viewed as timid and shy, the truth is that introversion and extroversion actually relate to where we get our energy from. Introverts gain energy from spending time alone while extroverts get their energy from being around other people. Fortunately, the stigma around introversion has been changing because of books like “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking”, by Susan Cain (I also recommend her TedTalk) and research by Wharton professor Adam Grant.
There is also a misconception that only extroverts are successful business owners. Wrong! In fact, some of the most successful entrepreneurs in the world are introverts—for example, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, J.K Rowling and even Elon Musk is a self-described former “introverted engineer”. Musk is quoted as saying, “I’m basically like an introverted engineer, so, it took a lot of practice and effort to be able to go up on stage and not just stammer basically…as the CEO, you kind of have to.”
The truth is, introverts make great entrepreneurs and business leaders. You can be an introvert and still be a confident problem-solver and decision maker. In a recent study, researchers from ghSmart, a Chicago-based consultancy firm, spent ten years analyzing the personalities of 2,000 CEOs and reached the conclusion that the majority of the successful ones were introverts. The most important discovery of the study, called the CEO Genome Project, was that successful chief executives tend to demonstrate four specific behaviors that prove critical to their performance including:
- Deciding with conviction and speed
- Practicing relentless reliability
- Being relationship masters
- Adapting proactively to changing circumstances
As you can see these behaviors aren’t dependent on one being extroverted. In fact, introverts tend to excel at things like relationship building because they are good listeners and observers. So, if you’ve been thinking about breaking out and being your own boss but you are hesitant because you feel you are too “introverted” to be successful, here are three tips for you:
Focus on your strengths
When deciding what business or side gig you’d like to start, make sure you exploit your strengths—especially those strengths that you ENJOY. For example, maybe you enjoy connecting with people one on one, writing, researching, mentoring–whatever it may be, you can most certainly use those strengths in multiple business scenarios. If you hate networking events, DON’T GO! There are hundreds of ways to launch and promote a business so focus on those activities that are most comfortable for you. Remember, being an introvert can be a huge asset rather than a liability.
Supplement your weaknesses
If you’re an introvert, you may want to consider finding support elsewhere in those areas in which you aren’t as strong. For example, if sales isn’t your thing, maybe you can find a business partner who is an amazing salesperson that will complement your personality and skill set. Or, you may want to outsource some projects that you may not be as comfortable with to a freelancer or agency. In addition, if there are things that you want to do that aren’t your strengths, like public speaking for example, get a coach and start practicing. Even Warren Buffett had a fear of public speaking and he was able to overcome it. Don’t let your weaknesses stand in the way of what you want.
Take time to recharge
As an introvert, you probably need a certain amount of alone time to inspire creative thought and recharge your batteries. If you are like me, you enjoy being social but too much and it feels like “overstimulation”. Carve out some alone time so you aren’t in danger of burning out. Being your own boss means that you have the flexibility to create your own schedule so take advantage of it.
In short, don’t be intimidated to start your own business because you’re introverted. You have great gifts that deserve to be shared with the world, so just go for it!