Introvert CEOs poised to thrive

Historically, extroverts have been promoted to leadership roles at higher rates than their peers. But in the post-pandemic C-suite, a new leadership style is taking hold — one better suited to introverts. 

Kara Dennison, an executive coach and CEO of New York City-based Optimized Career Solutions, nodded to the shift in a Feb. 14 Forbes article. More companies are adopting hybrid and remote work models, deleting days of social interactions from their job requirements. They're also rethinking the number of meetings they host (a 2022 survey found that the average organization invests $80,000 into meetings per employee, per year), opening more time for independent, deep focus. 

Introverted CEOs are poised to shine amid this shift to quiet management, according to Ms. Dennison. Skills frequently possessed by the "quieter types," such as excellent written communication, have become coveted in an increasingly asynchronous work environment. Plus, introverts are more likely to listen to understand, not to respond, and to ask thought-provoking questions; their intentional approach to relationship-building can improve engagement and morale. 

Past research has identified most leaders as extroverts; a 2009 study published in Industrial and Organizational Psychology found that 96% of leaders and managers identify as extroverted. In 2016, a report from The Sutton Trust declared that extroverts are 25% more likely to be in a high-earning job.

Despite the numbers, many top CEOs have self-identified as introverts: Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, Larry Page, Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk. In a 2017 Rolling Stone profile, Mr. Musk notes that as a child, he spent most of his time alone: "I was raised by books. Books, and then my parents."

Health system CEOs have also spoken to Becker's about their introversion over the years. David Bailey, MD, retired president and CEO of Jacksonville, Fla.-based Nemours Children's Health, said that being an introvert "who still enjoys people" is one of his greatest talents. 

"To be still and listen is a skill that fits my personality," Dr. Bailey said. "I hope, and people have remarked to me, that I listen with empathy. This has been of tremendous value, both outside and inside the C-suite."

Employees report that they do, in fact, prize softer skills in CEOs. Becker's recently polled 1,318 readers, asking which skill set they found most important in a chief executive. Fifty-nine percent indicated honesty and openness, and 22% chose compassion and empathy. Only 7% chose charisma and public speaking ability as their primary CEO criteria. 

"The myth that introverts don't make great leaders holds back both individuals and organizations and should be viewed as an outdated relic," Ms. Dennison wrote in Forbes. "The future looks bright for introverted leaders who fully embrace their authentic strengths, and the organizations that promote them."

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