Introverts, Extroverts and Ambiverts… Oh My!
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Introverts, Extroverts and Ambiverts… Oh My!

03 May 2016

It's not easy being green.... For those of you old enough, this should call to mind Kermit the frog on his log, singing about the woes of being different, but recognising that he is different and is celebrating his unique greenness…

"Hello, my name is Sheryll Fisher and I'm an introvert." (sound of people clapping—people who are carefully holding polystyrene cups half full of tepid instant coffee in a small windowless room) "I've been an introvert all my life but I've only recently come to terms with it. Now I embrace it." (more polite clapping and nods and murmurs of understanding and acceptance). It’s the AA meeting equivalent: IA or Introverts Anonymous.

When we come across the word introvert or extrovert, we tend to think of a person as being one or the other and that introversion is a lack of extroversion. In reality, it is a continuum with “I” on one and and “E” on the other, with neither end being better than the other. Most of us fit somewhere around the middle, with 60% of us leaning towards the Extrovert end. And for some of us, we can go where our energy or the situation requires us to be. I am mostly introverted, but due to an “army brat” childhood that consisted of constantly moving houses (5 primary schools and 3 high schools), I learned to entertain people with humour and to fit in at each school as quickly as possible as part of my survival mechanism.

It wasn't until I read Susan Cain’s book: "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Won't Stop Talking” that I truly understood that there was a quiet strength in my introversion, something that I hadn't acknowledged much less appreciated before. And that I was, by all accounts, perfectly normal.

It was normal for me to dislike loud and noisy environments, have an aversion to small talk (give me depth over breadth please) and leave crowded networking functions feeling like a small minion had taken up residence in my head and was hammering out the 1812 Overture.

It’s not that I’m shy—I’m not. From my extensive reading (did you know there are 22 published books on introvert leadership?) , I’ve come to understand that shyness is a fear of social disapproval and can be found in both introverts and extroverts. Introversion is simply a preference for environments that are not over-stimulating, like a room full of people talking over one another, with music, the smell of food…then possibly the smell of smoke…and flashing lights! Just one of the above is enough to set me off.

There is also a third term that no one really talks about and that is the “Ambivert.” An ambivert is a person with both introverted and extroverted traits. As an ambivert, you are just as happy being around others having a great time and being the life of the party as you would be spending a weekend on your own, pottering around in your pyjamas and reading a good book.

How you respond to control stimulation determines where you sit on the scale of introversion, ambiversion and extroversion. To see where you are, go to:

Of course, there are all sorts of environmental factors that also determine your behaviours, but we are born with an innate character traits and tendencies. Where we sit on the IE scale forms part of that character which will not change. However, as we get older, we can develop learned behaviours that layer upon those traits to achieve the outcomes we are seeking.

40% of the world’s greatest leaders consider themselves to be introverts, including some of the greatest influencers of our time: Mahatma Gandhi, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Albert Einstein, Barrack Obama and whether you like her or not, Hillary Clinton. Too often, extroverts are seen as natural leaders whereas introverts are often overlooked because of their quietness. Leadership traits found in introverts include humility, honesty and integrity. They are excellent listeners who thoughtfully consider what you are saying, as opposed to waiting for their turn to speak. As Susan Cain shares, quiet leaders bring a competitive advantage to any organization because they tend to reflect before reacting and exhibit calm under pressure. However, you would be hard pressed to find a blockbuster movie that features the hero responding to an alien invasion with a well laid plan and a comprehensive risk analysis. Complete with flow charts.

I am a voracious reader and I don’t just read books on quiet leadership (though did you know there are actually 22 published books on introvert leadership?). Recently, I read Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner’s “The Leadership Challenge,” and I concluded that every leader, wherever they may sit on the IE scale, must be able to demonstrate the following competencies:

  1. Enable others to act
  2. Model the way
  3. Challenge the process
  4. Encourage the heart
  5. Inspire a shared vision

It’s how you approach, understand and execute those traits that make the leader, not whether you’re the last man standing at a social work function which has no bearing on your leadership ability. Charisma alone does not maketh the leader.

My advice? If you suspect you have held yourself back as a leader because you may be more on the I end of the scale, read Susan Cain’s book. Learn to accept your introverted style, work to your strengths and strive to do better.

Embrace your green.

Listen to Susan Cain 2012 TED Talk on “The Power of Introverts”

SHERYLL FISHER is the Managing Director of Outback Initiatives, and is responsible for company operations, human resources, administration and strategic partnerships. Sheryll has over 10 years of experience designing and delivering over 70 adventure-based training programs and 16 Nepalese Ghurkka Contingent programs. Prior to joining the company in 2006, Sheryll oversaw administration, project management and quality systems in engineering and space related industries in Australia and the United States. She is passionate about experiential learning for community engagement and women, youth and indigenous leadership development. Sheryll was named Belmont Business Awards Businesswoman of the Year 2015 and helped the company secure several awards, including Commonwealth Bank North West Metro Small Business Awards for Best Business and Best Educational Services Provider. She sits on the board of the Joondalup Rotary Association and Cave Management Advisory Board for the WA Department of Parks and Wildlife. Sheryll enjoys reading, mountain climbing, trekking and fishing and climbed to Everest Base Camp in 2014. She lives with her partner and two children in Perth, Western Australia.

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