We are told, those of us who study MBTI, that there is no value attributed to any of the styles and attributes – they just are. Talking to ‘extroverts’ of course this never quite seems to be the case. There is some implied strength in extroversion and some implied weakness in introversion. My nervousness with Cain’s thinking is it begins to tip the other way.
People are often surprised when I reveal I have very strong introversion preferences. In the job that I am in I’m frequently required to talk at conferences, host events, join large groups or meetings and generally spend my time building relationships with others and being in the company of others. I don’t mind this, it is my role – and indeed developing and promoting better leadership in health feels like a vocation. The quality of the humanity in the interrelations between people working in healthcare I think it of the most importance in providing compassionate, safe care. Great leadership at its best is an embodiment of that humanity. So my role allows me to do the thing that most matters to me. I think we still have the majority of people in health who work there for some reason of vocation. It is partly why we all accept the cost associated with that. The cost to me is in energy. It’s not that I don’t enjoy my work, it isn’t that I don’t like spending time with people, it’s just that I would much prefer the role if I could somehow do it in the shed at the bottom of my garden through the medium of writing!
Like most introverts I get my energy, I get to recharge myself; I get a sense of calm reflection and quiet happiness from being on my own, or with a very small number of people. That quiet introversion helps me, but it isn’t always helpful for my role, and it is also, as a leader, what I can see people need from me sometimes.
I am often asked who I think are some of the best leaders in health, or the best chief executives. It’s an odd question but a frequent one. There is a rub here isn’t there – by definition the ones we think of are those that seek or are happy to inhabit the limelight; heroic leaders with a reputation to fear or admire; vocal, visible, on platforms, in public. The introverted leader creates leaders around them not followers, and so by definition their reputation is less high profile, they are less visible, less vocal. It also means our most visible role models are those with extroverted tendencies seeking limelight and public recognition. By accident this then becomes that which we seek out and promote.
The point of course is not that one or the other is better but that they are both needed and complementary. My colleague has written about his extroversion – he is exceptional at what he does. His deep frustration with me is the difficulty in reading where I am, how I feel and consequently what I need. But our different styles and preferences help us understand each other and much more importantly – the different people in our respective and joint teams. As in many other areas for leadership it is the difference that works, the magical alchemy of different styles, perspectives, strengths, knowledge and lived experience. The diversity in styles we need for our leadership in the NHS leaves plenty of room for both of us.
Know who you are, be curious about those around you and celebrate each other’s difference. There’s too much to do for us to waste time competing or comparing.
Now I’m going to sit in a dark room and think a bit more about what this means for me…
Karen’s book recommendation: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking