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Shyness and Success: Do You Need to Be an “Alpha Female” to Be Seen as a Leader?

Shyness and Success: Do You Need to Be an “Alpha Female” to Be Seen as a Leader?

In the workplace, many women think that in order to be a successful leader they have to have stereotypical masculine qualities like confidence, boldness, and dominance. The disadvantages of shyness are often discussed, but the advantages of shyness are often overlooked. Shyness does have certain disadvantages in the workplace, such as potentially serving as an obstacle to networking or sharing your ideas; however, shyness also has many advantages, such as increased thoughtfulness and approachability. Many workplaces tend to be oversaturated with overconfident, overbearing male leaders and could benefit from putting more women with contemplative, reserved personality types into positions of leadership. 

In my own experience as a student, I have observed this “alpha male” phenomenon through group projects. I’ve worked in groups - both in high school and in college - where the men take on domineering roles and are perceived as leaders while the women take on diligent roles and are not. The women are receptive towards other group members while the men spearhead the group. As I reflect on these past experiences, I clearly see that these women had underrated skills that made them much better suited for leadership than their male peers. For example, they were deeper thinkers and better collaborators. 

The CEO Genome Project is a 10 year study that analyzed data on 17,000 C-suite executives, including over 2,000 CEOs. Despite Boards of Directors favoring extroverted CEOs, the research demonstrated that introverted CEOs are actually more likely to outperform extroverted CEOs. 

A study by Adam Grant at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania demonstrates that introverts are more effective at leading teams of proactive employees who take initiative. In addition, the research states that these proactive, initiative-taking employees are crucial in modern business environments; as such, it is ideal for businesses to create teams of these employees led by introverted leaders

Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can ́t Stop Talking discusses her research over the past seven years on introverts’ many strengths - like being more creative and thoughtful - despite being undervalued in workplace culture. 

So how can we use this knowledge to combat the “alpha male” phenomenon? Why do the leadership benefits of introversion and shyness matter if these personality types aren’t being put into leadership positions? What could I have done in these past group project experiences to aid my shyer female peers - and myself - in assuming leadership positions? 

The key is support. Even if you’re an “alpha female” who can’t relate to having these qualities, be mindful of and support your peers who do. In meetings, amplify your female peers’ or coworkers’ ideas while giving them credit, a strategy adopted by female White House staffers. The use of this strategy will allow the most qualified individuals to be considered as leaders regardless of gender- or personality-based unconscious bias. If you are in a managerial role - or are an ambitious woman with plans to assume a managerial role someday - keep in mind the importance of promoting communal behavior, ensuring reserved employees’ voices are heard, and being aware of unconscious biases you or your staff may have. It’s important that current workplace leaders recognize the benefits of putting introverted and/or shy women into positions of leadership. 

In terms of supporting yourself, discuss with your female peers the importance of amplifying each other’s ideas and seeing each other as leaders. In addition, it’s important for shy people to be confident in themselves, even if they don’t outwardly show it.

Be confident in the knowledge that feminine, communal personality traits make you a better leader, not a worse one.