Listen Up

  • May 21, 2013
  • Alisha

When I tell the people closest to me of my political ambitions, the first thing they say is: “But you’re so quiet!” It’s true that public office does not appear the ideal or natural place for chronic introverts. Public speaking, networking, fundraising – all critical campaign activities – are not associated with the overly introspective and solitude-seeking among us.  Indeed, such social activities and extemporaneous speaking can be thoroughly exhausting for an introvert.

Yet, I believe that our policy and leadership benefit when extroverts and introverts are both at the table. And I am not alone in thinking this.

Today’s dialogue around introverts and the fallacy of the extrovert ideal entered into the mainstream in 2012. This conversation was headlined by Susan Cain in her acclaimed, Quiet, and by Bryan Walsh in “The Upside of Being An Introvert.” (I would also recommend Dr. Jennifer Kahnweiler’s The Introverted Leader.)

These thinkers argue that introverts are necessary and complementary additions to a leadership circle that is dominated by gregarious extroverts. As politicians, introverts tend to be the active listeners, facilitators, and compromisers. These cautious and deliberate thinkers are less likely to give in to groupthink and feel pressure to conform.  They understand, from continuous and often “outsider” observation, that situations are always more complicated than they appear, and these individuals value careful or slow-moving analysis over snap decisions.

No one, including me, argues that introverts are superior leaders or should replace extroverts at the table. Such a scenario would be equally problematic. Nor do we believe that extroverts can’t share in these positive qualities, or that introverted leaders don’t need to leave their comfort zones. Instead, we believe that the best policy is developed only when both personality types act in concert.

I encourage all Emerge women to set aside time for serious introspection in order to discover their personality-based strengths and weaknesses. Consider how your personality plays – unfairly or not – into how others perceive your trustworthiness, fitness for leadership, and intellect.  I encourage you not to conflate quietness with weakness, ignorance, or arrogance. As always, never let assumptions shadow your judgment of any individual or group.

Elizabeth Laferriere, MPP
Public Policy Analyst
Fellow, San Francisco Department on the Status of Women and Department of Public Health
Emerge CA 2013