Confidence, Introversion, and Leadership

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William Pora's comment about two former supervisors on my article about introvert executives got me thinking: Is an introvert naturally less confident than an extrovert, and does that affect her ability to lead others? What behavioral triggers make someone seem less confident, and do they parallel with her standing on the introversion-extroversion scale?

First, let's be clear that shyness and introversion are not the same.

Both characteristics have to do with sociability—but that's about it. Shy folks want to interact, yet the prospect makes them fearful. It's like wanting to bungee jump and being unable to launch over the ledge. They're scared. Introverts, on the other hand, interact with people easily—they just find it exhausting. They have no interest in bungee jumping, even though it doesn't scare them. Introverts need a lot more alone time; they don't crave interpersonal interaction as much as extroverts (and some don't need it at all).

One of my college psychology professors said the simplistic rule of thumb in determining if a person is introverted or extroverted is whether, after a big party, he is energized or drained.

Another great illustration comes from Carol Bainbridge in an article, in which she wrote that an introverted child would rather sit at a desk and read, because playing with a large group of children is tiring, while a shy child wants to play with other children but can't bring himself to do so. People can overcome shyness.

I was a shy child, but I worked hard to get over it. I'm still an introvert, though.

Back to the question about introversion and confidence. We've all known people who are just as charismatic and powerful in their reserve as loud and boisterous folks are—and sometimes more so. (After all, isn't the "strong, silent type" a familiar cliché?) Someone who is shy may have trouble feeling confident—fear and confidence typically negate each other—but an introvert can still be a powerful leader.

Extroverts don’t have a lock on the confidence characteristic.

There's no question that confidence is required for leadership. Few follow a wishy-washy person. And smart people won't follow someone who—even if loudly and in party mode—rushes pell-mell into an ill-considered decision.

The ability to assess options, choose with assuredness, and advocate the choice strongly to others to lead them belies confidence. And I daresay you'll find that ability all along the introversion-extroversion scale.