Joanna Rawbone

Joanna Rawbone, founder of Flourishing Introverts

Ever feel like the popular vision of an extraverted entrepreneur doesn't really represent you? Joanna Rawbone explains why you're not alone and how to harness your inner power and protect your energy if you're an introverted entrepreneur.

With entrepreneurship and business startups on the rise and exponential growth expected over the coming months, it’s crucial that these business owners really know how to play to their strengths and inner powers. 

Some might even call them superpowers, but when it comes to introverts, we take a different stance so let me explain why. Superpowers are those exceptional abilities deployed by superheroes to conquer evil and avert disasters. That’s not what an introvert uses their special abilities for. They use them to flourish; to thrive, develop and live in harmony with their environment. And with our fast-paced, ever-changing business environment biased towards extraverts, that’s a necessary gift.  

The reality of introversion

It's probably a good idea to clear up some of the many myths and misconceptions about introverts. They are not arrogant, boring, tongue-tied or lonely with no friends or social life. Introversion is not the same as shyness, social anxiety or depression. Extraverts experience those things too. 

The reality is that introverts may be quiet because that’s what they need to recharge their mental batteries. Carl Jung, the Swiss psychologist, explained that the difference between introverts and extraverts is what drains and charges their mental batteries.

Extraverts rely on interaction, active experiences and change to be energised. Ironically, these are the very things that can drain an introvert. Their communication processes are different too, in that introverts have the more considered and slower-paced ‘think-say-think’ approach, whilst extraverts tend to have a stream of consciousness, or ‘say-think-say’ process. 

Unless people are aware of these differences, it can lead to assumptions being made that the introvert has nothing to say for themselves, no opinion, no contribution. What’s probably happening is that there hasn’t been enough thinking time or space in the conversation for an introvert to get to the ‘say’ part of their process. When people consciously make that space, you’ll often find that the quietest voice makes the most profound contribution.

With many really talented introverts less likely to push themselves forward, they tend to get overlooked and mistakenly judged as lacking drive and ambition too. It’s no wonder then that many of the world’s really successful entrepreneurs identify as introverts. Did they strike out on their own because the bias in conventional business meant they weren’t able to do their best work? Is that what happened to Bill Gates, Richard Branson, Larry Page, Oprah Winfrey, Elon Musk and many more besides?

So, if you’re an introverted entrepreneur, you’re in good company. 

Why then are an introvert’s inner powers so vital to success?

Simply put, it’s because they empower you. They give you the means to take appropriate action confidently.  They are the bedrock of your character that shape your intentions and how you show up in the world. And those are both essential to building trust.

But no two introverts are the same, so their inner powers will be different too. There may be similarities, but the way they develop and are utilised varies from person to person. And with six pure introvert types and many blends, the diversity is immense.

So, there isn’t a simple list of powers, like a checklist, to access. They are the synthesis of an individual’s authentic strengths, so it must start with self-awareness and really knowing yourself. 

If you do an internet search for essential qualities or strengths of an entrepreneur, you’ll get about 17 million results, but when you look at some of them, they espouse extraverted traits.

If you follow that route, you’re on the path to burnout because you’ll be falling into the extraversion bias trap. It won’t be long before you’ll wonder why you decided to take the entrepreneurial road because you’re exhausted from trying to be something you’re not. To be really successful over time, you need to be the best version of your authentic self. And yes, that starts with really knowing yourself. 

Psychologists tell us that understanding, owning and being able to play to our strengths is an important part of increasing our self-awareness. It gives us insight into what makes us different, into our distinctiveness. This is one way we can stop colluding with the idea that our difference as introverts is somehow bad, wrong, or not good enough. Our distinctiveness is literally what makes us stand out in some way, which is much needed if we’re to flourish. And you’ll need to be distinctive as an introverted business owner. You are your brand.

What do we mean by a strength?

Well it's not something that you happen to be good at. It's more than that. In fact, the Gallup definition of a strength is “…. the ability to consistently provide near-perfect performance in a specific activity.”

Managers and clients may have told you what your ‘strengths’ are, but they’re actually talking about your performance at a task or activity; what you’re good at.

To be able to perform consistently over time, you also need passion for that activity. If you’re good at doing something you loathe, the consistency will be missing because your heart isn’t in it. If you love doing something you’re not great at, you can practice (and I suggest you do) but it may never become a strength if you can’t reach a ‘near-perfect’ standard.

The simple fact is that strengths strengthen us, they energise us, they light us up. That’s why we can do it repeatedly and without much effort, because they resource us in some way. And introverts need that. One of the reasons people go into business for themselves is that they are frustrated that their strengths are not being valued or utilised in their job.

How do you get clarity on your strengths?

There are numerous questionnaires you can take, and I often recommend the Personal Strengths Inventory based on the work of Seligman as a useful place to start. The personalised report describes 24 strengths clustered into four groups with the reminder not to assume it’s necessary to improve the lower scoring areas.

This can be complemented by a reflective exercise and some useful questions to ponder are:

  • What is your life’s purpose, your mission, your reason for doing this business?
  • What activities do you get completely immersed in?
  • What do you feel most energised doing?
  • What feels effortless to you?
  • What qualities have helped you to be successful?

Here are some examples shared by introverted clients:

“Strengths of resilience, persistence and creativity and proactivity synthesized to resourcefulness.”  And you’ll need that in bucketloads as an owner-manager of your business. Being an entrepreneur can be a lonely journey, but one to which introverts are pretty well suited being fairly self-sufficient. But, be sure to ask for help when needed and seek great counsel. 

“Purposeful communication. I never waste words as I tend to be succinct, on-point and measured.” There were a number of strengths that made this possible including active and intentional listening, assimilation of ideas, summarising clearly and defusing conflict.

Work through the questions above to establish your own strengths and their inner power clusters, then consider the following:

  • What are your realised (used) and unrealised strengths?
  • Where can you create more opportunities to play to your strengths so more of them are realised more of the time?
  • How can you use your strengths to counter your weaknesses?
  • What is best done by someone else for the good of the business, and your sanity?

There is a well-known warning about the dangers of being a ‘Jack or Jill of all trades but master of none’. That’s easier said than done, especially during the initial period of your venture when you may need to be able to turn your hand to almost anything. 

That can be a hard habit to break, though, and if you don’t, you’ll hinder your business and personal growth.  Know when it’s time to draw around you people whose strengths complement yours, who excel at doing what you’re not great at and what you don’t enjoy. These things are the antithesis of your strengths, so you should readily and happily outsource or delegate these to others. 

In conclusion

Once you’re closer to understanding your strengths and inner powers, remember this is a lifelong process. This helps to ensure that you’re using relevant strengths given our ever-changing business world. 

It is important to use your strengths to shape your business the way you want it to be. Develop a growth mindset so you’re prepared to learn from the challenges and those with appropriate experience.

Don’t be drawn to emulate the cookie-cutter image of an entrepreneur. 

Be different. Play to your introverted strengths and inner powers.  Be unashamedly, authentically you.

About Joanna Rawbone

Joanna has spent more than 24 years working with thousands of international clients through her own training and coaching consultancy, Scintillo Ltd. During this time, and through her own earlier experiences, she has seen just how problematic the extraversion bias in organisations is. It negatively impacts employee engagement, retention and productivity. It also impairs the physical and mental health and wellbeing of employees with the obvious consequences.

Recognising that it was time for action, Joanna founded Flourishing Introverts, a platform to:  

  • Support those who want to fulfil their potential without pretending to be something they're not
  • Educate and inform organisations about the true cost of overlooking their introverts
  • Promote positive action and balance the extraversion bias

Joanna has a real passion for helping her clients make the small but sustainable changes that really make a difference. Being a functioning introvert, her clients value her ability to listen to more than the words, understand things from their perspective and co-create robust, pragmatic solutions.

Neina Sheldon
Article by Neina Sheldon
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