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The trouble is, fewer and fewer of us have time for solitary contemplation and practice anymore. It's not just the assault of e-mail, cell phones and social media; in fact, many introverts prefer these digital tools because they provide a buffer that telephone conversations and face-to-face meetings don't. But the very geography of the American workplace is designed to force people together. Some 70% of American workers spend their days in open-plan offices, with little or no separation from colleagues; since 1970, the average amount of space allotted to each employee has shrunk from 500 sq. ft. (46 sq m) to 200 sq. ft. (19 sq m). Much of this is done in the name of collaboration, but enforced teamwork can stifle creativity. "You need to give people time to think if you want them to actually get work done," says Cain.
It's not just introverts who suffer when work becomes an endless series of meetings and brainstorming sessions. Anyone who has spent time in any organization knows that there is rarely a correlation between the quality of an idea and the volume at which it is presented. Defying the loudest speaker--and the groupthink that tends to build around that person--can be painful for anyone. Gregory Berns, a neuroeconomist at Emory University, has found that when people oppose group consensus, their amygdalae light up, signaling fear of rejection. The risks of groupthink are perhaps most apparent in criminal juries, where the desire for social cohesion can sometimes short-circuit justice.
The right kind of leader can break that pattern, and the right kind of leader may be an introverted one. Introverted CEOs are more common than you might think, given the caricature of the hard-charging, fast-talking executive. By one estimate, 40% of high-powered American businesspeople fall on the introvert end of the spectrum, a group that appears to include the likes of Bill Gates, Charles Schwab and Google CEO Larry Page. The ability to assess risk and remain focused on the long term can pay off big in the boardroom. So can the capacity for listening, a trait that can be too easily lost in the isolation of the C-level suite. "Introverted leaders tend to be more detail oriented and better able to hear their employees," says Jennifer Kahnweiler, an executive coach and author of The Introverted Leader.
There's even a case to be made that introverted CEOs are the business leaders of the future. Wharton Business School psychologist Adam Grant has found that introverted leaders mesh best with empowered and independent employees, while traditionally extroverted executives work best with employees who take orders easily. "In a faster-paced service-and-knowledge economy, it's much more difficult for leaders to anticipate all of the threats and opportunities that face their organizations," says Grant. "This need for employee proactivity has created a distinct advantage for introverted leaders." And that, in turn, may spell an advantage for their companies.