Over the past century in the U.S. and much of the western world we have witnessed the rise of the “Culture of Personality” where we focus on how others perceive us. The extroverted ideals of charisma, salesmanship and an outgoing nature are celebrated as key traits of leadership, and introverts are…well, encouraged to be more like extroverts.
Yet a growing base of research suggests that the extroverted ideal may not be all it’s cracked up to be. While extroverted leaders tend to have bigger salaries than introverts, they don’t necessarily produce better business results, and in fact some suggest today’s increasing focus on extroverted leadership may be leading to an increased amount of risk-taking and reward-seeking behavior among the highly extroverted executives of some of the biggest companies in the world.
A book by Susan Cain called “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in A World That Can’t Stop Talking” makes the point that perhaps we should get better at recognizing the value of introverts as well.
Within the context of financial planning, it seems that the extrovert ideal reigns supreme, given the focus of financial planning as a “relationship business” that necessitates extensive interaction and deep bonds between advisors and clients. Yet even here, the reality is that despite misconceptions, introverts are not necessarily shy, and introversion is not necessarily about being antisocial but simply about interacting differently in social environments.
In fact, the preference of introverts for more intimate one-on-one settings suggests that introverts might even be especially well suited to form the deep personal connections that support some of the best financial planning relationships!
As a strong introvert myself (yes, it’s true!) I find the growing research around introverts to be quite fascinating, and the more I look around the more I find that financial planning may be populated with far more introverts than anyone might have first suspected. In the end, whether you’re an introvert yourself or simply trying to figure out how to better work with, manage, or relate to one, Susan Cain’s book is a fascinating read with a fresh perspective on what introverts can bring to the table, and how introverts can try to function better in what—at least for now—is still a very extrovert-centric environment.
The Quiet Revolution of Introverts
In the years since she wrote “Quiet: The Power of Introverts In A World That Can’t Stop Talking” author Susan Cain has been trying to foment what she calls “The Quiet Revolution,” a celebration of everything that introverted people bring to a world that holds out extroversion as an ideal.
In fact, as Cain notes in her book, studies have shown that especially in the U.S., people who are talkative and outgoing are rated as smart, better-looking and more interesting. Even among the talkative we rank the fast talkers as more competent and likable than slow ones. This “Extroverted Ideal” is embodied in everything from the common workplace belief that it’s best to work in teams that promote interpersonal interaction and collaboration, to children or quiet workers who are prodded to “come out of their shells” instead of celebrating the creativity for them that comes forth from within.
Yet the reality is that it has not always been this way. In fact, the rise of the Extroverted Ideal seems to be a phenomenon of the past century or so. Up through the late 19thcentury, we lived not in a culture of extroverted personalities, but a “culture of character” where the ideal was one who was serious, disciplined and honorable. In other cultures—most notably many Asian cultures—this more introverted orientation is still the ideal. In fact, Cain notes that despite the popularity of the team-based approach, many of the greatest breakthroughs occur not amid a group of extroverts working together but from introverts working alone. Those breakthroughs range from the theories of gravity and relativity to a long list of creative works (from writings to paintings), to the creation of the first personal computer prototype by Steve Wozniak who did his work in solitude.
Simply put: the Extroverted Ideal may not actually be as ideal as our culture suggests, and we may not be giving enough credit for what introverts bring to the table.
The Introvert as Financial Planner
While the Extroverted Ideal is expressed widely across our culture and in business, there are perhaps few industries where it is expressed as strongly as in financial planning, where it seems just presumed that everyone will be outgoing and social. How else can one gather clients and work with them, right? How could anyone possibly be in a “relationship business” like financial planning if they’re shy and introverted?
Yet as Cain points out, there’s actually a significant difference between being “shy” and being “introverted.” Research increasingly finds that introverted people may simply be more sensitive to their surroundings and are more inclined to seek out quieter, more intimate environments to make connections. By contrast, shyness is the actual fear of social disapproval or humiliation. While many introverts are shy, many are not, though their lack of shyness still doesn’t change the fact that they may prefer to be alone to focus, do work or ‘recharge their batteries’.
In fact, the introvert’s preference for seeking out one-to-one relationships may actually make them especially good financial planners, able to connect with and bond with their clients, even if the process of “prospecting” and getting clients in the first place may be more challenging. Yet as Cain also notes in the research, when introverted people are especially drawn to a cause or purpose (a “personal project”), they can be quite extroverted for a period of time in pursuit of their goal.