The MPW Insiders network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question: When it comes to leadership, is it better to be an introvert or extrovert? is written by Mary Godwin, vice president of operations at Qumulo.
On any given day, being a leader requires the ability to be adaptable. Leaders do not have the luxury to retreat to their introverted or extroverted comfort zones, but must instead be “ambiverts” and have a flexible attitude depending on the situation.
I’m like a lot of executives, who, over the course of their careers have been “Myers-Brigg’ed” or the equivalent, numerous times. I think that I figured out that I was an introvert in kindergarten, when I was scared and shy to interact with the other kids. Girl Scouts? Forget it… I hated every second. Since then, I have had it confirmed over and over again through personality tests. But while I find it interesting that a test can determine my behavioral traits, it would be wrong to use this as a “crutch” during times of stress at work.
I can’t remember any time when it would have been acceptable to say, ‘Oh, sorry, I’m not going to do, or say, or go to (fill in the blank), because I’m an introvert and it would make me uncomfortable.’ The end result is that I would not have been able to do my job effectively, had I not ventured into the discomfort zone when needed. I deal with my “introvertedness” by being as prepared as possible when I have to be in a more public situation. I’m sure extroverts have tricks that they use as well.
Although it is important to be genuine in your interactions with co-workers and team members, you have to remember that if you are a leader, when you are at work, you are basically on stage. You cannot underestimate the extent to which others are scrutinizing your actions. Reverting back into whatever behavior style you are most comfortable with can send the wrong message to the rest of the team. Behavior that may be acceptable for a code writer may not carry over into leadership roles.
For example, as an introvert, when you need some alone time your first instinct is to go into your office and close your door. Maybe you put on your headphones and turn up the music. Like it or not, fair or unfair, you are sending out the signal that you are shutting yourself off from your team. If you don’t think that they are talking about it, you are wrong. Now, the team is distracted by the signals that you are sending – instead of working on whatever the priority of the day should be.
I’ve focused on being an introvert in this article, because that is what I know best. I’m sure that reflective extroverts would also have a list of “do’s and don’ts” when it comes to managing their comfort zone of behavior. Bottom line, teams expects their leader to be adaptable, regardless of whether they’re an introvert or extrovert. Being a leader requires leaving your comfortable self behind and supporting the team. It is what “rising to the occasion” is all about. It is certainly not about being comfortable. So, save your headphones for the airplane.