Does your introversion hold you back from going for it at work sometimes? As it turns out, science may know why introverts often fail to emerge as leaders.
Science of Work

Here’s why introverts pass up leadership opportunities at work — and how they can start taking the lead

Does your introversion hold you back from “going for it” at work sometimes? As it turns out, science may know why.

A new study in the journal Personality and Individual Differences found that “introverts fail to emerge as leaders as often as extraverts because they engage in higher levels of forecasted negative affect and that these forecasts impede their emergent leadership potential.”

In other words, they tend to predict that group experiences will be harder for them than they might actually be, so they don’t try to take control during “informal leadership opportunities,” according to a writeup in the The British Psychological Society Research Digest.

Putting things in simpler terms, the writeup breaks down what the researchers mean by “emergent leadership” in the study, writing that it’s “when someone takes charge in a team without a formal hierarchy.”

Here are some of the findings from the research, plus what you can do to feel more empowered as an office introvert.

What the researchers found

The researchers took a look at how much 184 business students acted like leaders during an unstructured group task.

According to the writeup, before doing the group activity (developed by NASA), participants described how they thought they’d fare. Then they assessed others’ leadership performance afterward.

It’s clear that introverts can express their personal leadership through things like personal branding, but in the study, they reportedly didn’t demonstrate their leaderships skills as frequently as the extraverts during the activity — and also predicted it being more unpleasant beforehand.

Although the research couldn’t conclusively prove that introverts predictions prevented them from being leaders, the evidence seemed in line with his concept: “[T]hese two factors seemed to be related: when fully accounting for any differences in participants’ negative expectations, introversion was no longer associated with less emergent leadership.”

It looks like introverts who experience this have an opportunity to change on their hands.

Introverts may like taking control more than they expect to

We know that introverts have the power to get ahead and express themselves at work, but here’s another possible way to do so.

The research says that “if introverts can develop strategies to more accurately forecast their enjoyment of behavior more conducive to emergent leadership, then it is possible that such individuals will be on a level playing field with extraverts in relevant social situations.”

Other research shows that when introverts act extraverted, they like it more than they predicted.

Here’s how introverts can ‘take the plunge’ at work

You don’t always have to be the office wallflower…

Think about why you you’re tempted to opt out

Do some hard thinking about why, and you’ll figure out how to move forward.

Stephanie Peterson, co-founder of free profile photo testing tool PhotoFeeler.com, offers her perspective on this in The Muse, writing that “next time you’re thinking of saying no to an opportunity under the guise of being an introvert, pause and think about the real reasons behind your decision. If it’s all dread or disinterest, then you’re probably right to skip out. But if fear is suggesting you run away from something with clear potential to enrich your career, consider rising to the challenge.”

Speak up at the beginning of meetings

Being an introvert doesn’t mean you have no insight to offer.

Reader’s Digest features advice from communications expert, author, and coach Kristi Hedges.

“It can benefit introverts to think ahead and have a plan. Challenge yourself to put your ideas on the table in the first few minutes, and at a minimum, get your voice in the room. The vibe of the meeting is set early, and by contributing then, you’re establishing yourself as an active participant. As an added bonus, people may refer back to your comments and offer additional ways for you to get heard,” she told the publication.

Reader’s Digest goes on to suggest that if that doesn’t work for you, “start speaking these calming phrases to yourself before meetings.”

Draw on your strengths

Rey Castellanos, Founder and CEO of Feed Your Wolf and host of the podcast We Fail Forward (presented by the company), told Forbes about how introverts can do this.

“Introverts have a knack for going deep quickly, so you should leverage this strength to build deep lasting relationships with the people in your world. Learn to work smarter, not harder. Focus on what you are good at and build meaningful relationships everywhere you go, even if it’s only one at a time. We all crave deep and authentic connections, and introverts excel in this arena,” he told the publication.

Introverts, you have more power at work than you might think. After all, you do bring a lot to the table.