The topic of introversion has now entered the mainstream. How can I tell? This topic, which I have championed for so many years (full disclosure: I am an introvert), has now appeared in one of my favorite comic strips, and I honestly don’t know whether to laugh or cry.
In the Dilbert strip of July 23, an introvert appears and utters all of the stereotypes about introverts being despairing, lonely, and avoidant of conversation. Introversion has become part of the workplace diversity conversation, and that’s a good thing. Picking up on that trend, Dilbert, which satirizes workplace behavior, has now made this contribution, and I know it’s satire; nevertheless, I seem to have lost my sense of humor.
You see, I also know that introverts, no matter how skilled or intelligent, tend to be the last-hired. I know, from studies such as that done by Ones and Dilchert (Industrial & Organizational Psych, 2009), that introverts constitute only 12% of supervisors, and that percentage decreases as you go up the managerial levels, dwindling to a scant 2% at the very top. At the same time, the presence of extreme extroverts rises to 60% at the top.
Is this natural? Well, no, actually introverts can make exceptional leaders, especially for groups of people who have good ideas. The introvert leader will allow others speaking time, listen carefully, and be willing to integrate other people’s insight into the overall scheme. How do we know this? Besides assertions by people such as Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, a study of companies and the leaders who went from being merely good to excellent, research studies such as the one reported by Adam Grant et al. affirms this.
The problem? Well, the title of that research article for one thing. “Leadership Tip: Hire the Quiet Neurotic, Not the Impressive Extrovert” (Forbes Magazine, 2013). Neurotic? The opposite of extrovert is neurotic?
Bendersky & Shah (Acad. Mgmt. J. 2013) reassure us that introverts not only make good team members but that eventually their excellent contributions are recognized over the chatter of more outspoken but sometimes less thoughtful people. I’m glad to hear this; my only objection is their title: “The Downfall of Extroverts and the Rise of Neurotics.”
Corporations are just now beginning to recognize introversion, because of neurological difference, as being an appropriate and even necessary topic for inclusion in their diversity programs.
So I wonder if you could replace introverts in that comic strip with another group that is marginalized in our society and just on the edge of being understood and valued. Would it work and still be funny? I don’t know. I would welcome your reactions.
I wish that our group, introverts, hadn’t leaped from being marginalized as “peculiar” to the mainstream with no stops in between.