Introverts often get a bad rap in the workplace, especially when it comes to positions of leadership. Whether you agree with this take or not, it’s a fact supported by data. Research shows that 65% of executives believe introversion to be a barrier to leadership.
But interestingly enough, 40% of top executives are believed to be introverts themselves. So in other words — introverts are actually quite capable of leading, and already do so, but perhaps a shift is needed in the way workplaces view introverted leadership.
“When it comes to creativity and to leadership, we need introverts doing what they do best,” says Susan Cain, co-founder of Quiet Revolution and author of the bestsellers “Quiet Power: The Secret Strengths of Introverts” and “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in A World That Can’t Stop Talking.” She notes that introverts make up anywhere from one-third to one-half of the population. And yet, “Introverts are routinely passed over for leadership positions, even though introverts tend to be very careful — much less likely to take outsize risks,” says Cain.
If you’re looking to grow leaders at your healthcare organization, start by appreciating the quiet leadership already blossoming around you. Here are just a few reasons why introverts make great leaders in healthcare:
1. Introverts Love Learning
According to Cain, introverts share a love of learning — and their comfort with the focus and persistence required for deep thought helps support this love. They are intrinsically motivated to learn and seek knowledge because they’re curious. Introverts are also more likely to persist in finding solutions that aren’t initially apparent.
Perhaps Albert Einstein, (a textbook introvert) said it best: “It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s that I stay with problems longer.” The challenges of healthcare present a myriad of complex issues to unpack, and introverted leaders are uniquely suited to sit with these problems and discover innovative, creative solutions.
2. Introverts Listen to Understand
Introverts don’t say a lot, but it’s not because they don’t have anything to say. Rather, many introverts share a reluctance to say something that doesn’t make sense, requires a lot of explanation, or may not work out well in the end. Introverts listen intently to what others say and internalize it before they speak. They’re not thinking about what to say while the other person is still talking, but rather listening to understand so they can learn what to say.
While they may not always say much in a group setting, that doesn’t mean they don’t have anything to say — they’re just truly taking in the thoughts and opinions of others and incorporating that into their own thoughts. This trait can make the introverted leader a real force for good in the healthcare setting, as leadership here requires a thorough understanding of the needs facing nurses, doctors, patients, plus the ever growing list of external demands placed on healthcare organizations.
3. Introverts Present Thoughtful Ideas
If you have a team that regularly brainstorms ideas, you may not hear much from your team’s introverts during a meeting. But by the end of the meeting or just afterward, they’ll often provide the best possible options to consider without spending a lot of time talking through ideas that may not work. Instead, they’ll tend to think through problems and research options other organizations have tried. This is why they may have their noses buried in their phone in the middle of the meeting; they’re looking for solutions that have already been tried and have worked.
When introverts are on the team, don’t force a decision at the end of the meeting. Instead, let the decision happen at a future point so they have a chance to process and research prospective ideas before offering you the best options. You can also directly ask the introverted leaders on your team for their thoughts — sometimes introverts are ready to share in a meeting, but they want to ensure that the group is ready for their contribution. Work to tease out responses from your team with a “no pressure” attitude, and you may see more ideas rise to the surface than ever before.
4. Introverts Are Creative Problem Solvers
Introverts are problem solvers. They like to fix things. They seek to fully understand the issue at hand, they find the right solution, and then carefully formulate the appropriate steps to implement their solution before acting upon it. Because introverts tend to research potential solutions thoroughly, they’re likely to prevail in situations where others might become paralyzed by the deviation from the norm.
Thanks to this quality, introverted clinicians and caregivers may work really well with “problem” patients who require special treatment and attention. For example, if a patient presents differently than most, an introverted clinician’s past reading — driven by an insatiable thirst for knowledge — helps them remember a journal article that focused on the same presentation subtype. In addition, the introverted caregiver may be able to tune in to some of the more subtle signs about what’s happening with the patient, instead of listening solely to whatever they’re saying.
Introverts can contribute to highly-functional teams and successful healthcare organizations in countless ways. More prevalent than you might first suspect, the key to leveraging introverted leaders is to develop the eyes to see them in the first place. Be on the lookout for team members with excellent attention to detail — introverts often uncover factors that others may overlook. Also, seek out and develop staff who are thoughtful — introverted leaders develop their ideas before putting them on the table, and they pride themselves on knowing all of the facts before making an important decision.
With attributes like these, introverts are a valuable asset as individual contributors and leaders to any healthcare organization’s efforts to build a more Patient-Centered WorkforceTM. So next time you’re evaluating prospective candidates for a leadership position, make sure you don’t count out the quiet ones — because when they do speak, it’s the quiet ones who end up making the most noise.
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