In an ideal world, personality type would not be a predictor of career success. But, we don't live in an ideal world.
Evidence tells us that ENTJs and ESTJs make the highest salaries, ENTJs manage the most employees, and an ENTJ is the most likely personality type to become a CEO. If you're an ISFP, ISTP, INFP, INTP or INFJ, then you can expect to earn around half as much on average as your typical EXTJ – partly because you are much less likely to land a supervisory role. And even if you do make the jump into management, the chances are extremely slim that you'll be trusted with a very large team. Despite the job requiring infinite patience and focus, it's mostly Extraverts who get to manage 20+ employees.
Do Introverts face a glass ceiling? This data certainly suggests they do. And there's a frustration stirring, about being undervalued and misunderstood, or having to act like something they're not just to get their talents recognized in an Extravert-dominated workplace.
So what does it take for Introverts to get a seat at the big boy's table? How can they be heard?
What is the Introverted Glass Ceiling?
When we talk about glass ceilings, we're referring to an unfair cap on how far a person can advance based on some attribute that isn't essential to the job. Women often face the glass ceiling due to certain stereotypes about their abilities: "Women can't handle the pressure," for example, or "We didn't think she'd want that much responsibility." Therefore, women might be promoted less often than their male colleagues, even if they're at least as qualified for the job.
When Introverts hit the glass ceiling, it's based on a similar set of prejudices. How often have you heard the following?
"He's too quiet. He needs to speak up more."
"She thinks things over too much. She needs to be more decisive and learn to take action."
"He's not very sociable. He needs to build his interpersonal skills."
"She doesn't really stand out in team meetings. She needs to be more assertive."
"He's just not a natural leader. We need someone who's going to be tough."
The big problem with repeating these messages is it reinforces the idea that introversion is a defect that needs to be corrected and introverted personalities are too weak to make it to the top.
What Introverts Actually Bring to the Table
Far from being weak, Introverts possess a number of traits that not only are an asset in senior work roles, they're also the traits that disgraced leaders have visibly lacked. (Take a detour through the biographies of Uber's Travis Kalanick, Enron's Ken Lay and MF Global's Jon Corzine, for example, and you'll see how excessive risk-taking and ruthless dominance – traits of extraversion on steroids – can bring down companies when left unchecked.)
Here's what introverts bring to the management table:
Prudence. Yes, it sounds boring, but managers and leaders who create stability, who keep a level head in a crisis and who avoid taking unnecessary risks create solid and successful teams. Introverts think things through and don't take impulsive actions. Their team members are not thrown off balance by rapid and unexpected changes of direction or sudden emotional shifts.
Humility: It's sad that we don't place much value on the trait of humility since a healthy sense of our own limitations is essential for reaching our goals. The humble person is more likely to admit that she doesn't have all the answers and to incorporate other people's ideas into the overall plan. One study linked the virtue of humility to a leadership style described as "servant leadership." These leaders foster good performance by focusing on the growth, well-being and reciprocity of their teams.
Constructive communication: Introverts are often accused of being poor and reluctant communicators, but what they actually do is patient listening. They allow others to speak and spend a lot of time engaging in calm and constructive debate. This thorough and inclusive approach allows them to make considered decisions that are focused on the "why?" and "is this the right thing to do?" rather than the extraverted approach of "let's just do it!"
Productive rather than competitive: Introverts are really not at home in the battleground of meetings and individual competition, preferring to reflect and collaborate over making snap decisions. Instead, they're motivated by productivity, of getting the job done for the good of the project without being sidetracked by ego or the thrill of winning the debate. This perhaps explains why Introverts are more effective leaders of proactive teams than Extraverts.
How to Break the Glass Ceiling
As Introverts gain greater recognition in the workplace, it's imperative they are empowered with the right kind of confidence and attitude to step up and go beyond. Here are a few tips:
1. Don't listen to the stereotypes about introversion or apologize for your acting on your personality traits. Advancement means putting yourself on the radar and actually believing you can succeed in a high-level role. So, tell your boss know that you're working toward a higher position and ask what skill areas you need to develop. Organizations promote people who show gumption. Owning your talent is a big part of that.
2. If you manage others, think very carefully about whether you are enabling any type of personality prejudice in your team. Introverts are not all shy, socially awkward wallflowers who prefer solitude to company! Perception has a real effect on the prospects of Introverts and one of the ways to change that is by demonstrating how capable they are. Help your team to understand how Introverts work best and model that behavior, for example, by circling back to the Introvert at the end of a meeting so they have time to think about their response.
3. Understand that Introverts underestimate their abilities while (some) Extraverts overestimate theirs. In reality, the quality of their performances do not differ. If you find yourself questioning your accomplishments or being too modest, ask yourself, would an ENTJ ever question herself like that? Keep a list of everything you do that makes a difference and be direct about these contributions. You have to announce your abilities even though you're so self-critical on the inside.
4. Don't confuse fear with stereotypes. It's tempting to put roadblocks in your own way by saying, "Oh, I could never give a great presentation because I'm an Introvert." That's not true! Standing at the front of the room is not your natural place, and that's your introversion talking. But it doesn't mean you can't do it. Sometimes, Introverts have to step out of their own comfort zones and inhabit some of the spaces that Extraverts monopolize in order to open up doors for their own growth.
5. Finding a mentor is a powerful way to break through the introverted glass ceiling. The barriers that Introverts face have been there for a long time, and a mentor can help you get connected with the tools, tips, people and resources that can help your professional development and growth. Managers – a formal mentoring program is especially valuable for the Introverts on your team since they do not discriminate by personality type. This can ensure equal access to mentors who Introverts may struggle to connect with on their own.
The belief that the best leader is the most dominant leader has been part of our workplace culture for too long. Fortunately, the tide is turning and we are entering an era where the quiet, thoughtful person is respected. These wizards of preparation instinctively dig deep into problems, are better listeners and keep their cool when others are losing theirs. If that translates to generating revenue for the company, then everyone's a winner.
Sheryl Sandberg once said, "In the future, there will be no female leaders. There will just be leaders." Let's hope the prediction rings just as true for Introverts.