12 Successful People You Might Not Know Are Introverts

October 11th 2015

Phoebe Petersen

While the larger than life figure of Donald Trump takes center stage in national news, there’s a quiet revolution brewing backstage. Trump embodies many of the qualities of an extrovert: gregarious, charismatic, aggressive, and delighted to be in the spotlight. These are the qualities that many Americans have come to expect from their leaders, yet often-overlooked introverts make equally good, if not better, leaders.

"In a dynamic, unpredictable environment, introverts are often more effective leaders," the Harvard Business review reports. After conducting both a field study and a lab experiment on the subject, they concluded, “introverted leaders tend to listen more carefully and show greater receptivity to suggestions.” That is not to say, of course, that there are not many very effective extroverts, but rather that it’s time to pay homage to some of the more introverted among us.

From authors and film stars to politicians and executives of Fortune 500 companies, introverts are successful leaders in every arena.

1. Emma Watson

Emma Watson's Passionate Speech on Gender Equality at Davos

Emma Watson is a self-described introvert. “I’m kind of an introverted kind of person just by nature, it’s not like a conscious choice that I’m making necessarily. It’s genuinely who I am,” Watson said in an interview for Rookie.

“Coming to realize that about myself was very empowering, because I had felt like 'Oh my god, there must be something wrong with me,'" she continued.

2. Marissa Mayer

Marissa Mayer

The highly successful CEO of Yahoo loves her job and feels at home in a room of engineers, but put her at party and she wants to leave. "I will literally look at my watch and say, 'You can’t leave until time x,'" she told Vogue.

3. President Barack Obama

Smiling Obama

The president's aversion to the Washington, D.C., cocktail circuit is well-known, and he's never been viewed as the classic, back-slapping politician. “Politics was a strange career choice for Obama,” David Frum, a conservative political commentator, told The New Yorker. “Obama is exactly like all my friends. He would rather read a book than spend time with people he doesn’t know or like.”  But this introversion has not exactly held him back. He is, after all, the president of the United States, a former U.S. Senator, and a Nobel Peace Prize winner. Not bad.

4. Mark Ruffalo

While Mark Ruffalo has no trouble speaking up for issues he cares about, he also claims to love quiet time. “I was an introverted kid; I liked my time alone," Ruffalo told Interview Magazine. "And the rest of my family is pretty extroverted, so I felt like a bit of an oddball.”

5. J.K. Rowling

This self-proclaimed introvert says on her website that she first came up with the idea for Harry Potter while riding on a train. Without a pen and too shy to ask anyone to borrow one, she spent the whole journey mapping the story out in her mind.

6. Mark Zuckerberg

Mark Zuckerberg

Facebook’s extroverted COO Sheryl Sandberg and CEO Mark Zuckerberg make an excellent team, in part because they balance each other out. “He is shy and introverted and he often does not seem very warm to people who don’t know him, but he is warm,” Ms. Sandberg told the New York Times. “He really cares about the people who work here." While she focuses on building the business, Zuckerberg puts his considerable talent into improving the Facebook website.

7. Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks

The civil rights icon was reportedly not a fiery, outspoken activist. Instead, she was known as an introvert, and her 2000 autobiography was even titled "Quiet Strength." As writer Susan Cain said in her book Quiet: The Power Of Introverts In A World That Can't Stop Talking, Parks' true demeanor came through when she died and the people who knew her mentioned this tranquility:

I had always imagined Rosa Parks as a stately woman with a bold temperament, someone who could easily stand up to a busload of glowering passengers. But when she died in 2005 at the age of 92, the flood of obituaries recalled her as soft-spoken, sweet, and small in stature. They said she was 'timid and shy' but had 'the courage of a lion.' They were full of phrases like 'radical humility' and 'quiet fortitude.'

(h/t Huffington Post)

8. Audrey Hepburn

Audrey Hepburn

“I'm an introvert...I love being by myself, love being outdoors, love taking a long walk with my dogs and looking at the trees, flowers, the sky,” the late actress Audrey Hepburn has been quoted as saying.

9. Bill Gates

Bill Gates smoked weed

No one would argue with Bill Gates’ financial success. Forbes has named him the world’s wealthiest man 16 times in the past 21 years. Famously introverted, Gates claims that his introversion has been an asset. "If you're clever, you can learn to get the benefits of being an introvert," he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

10. Angelina Jolie

Angelina Jolie at Comic-Con

The successful actress, filmmaker, and human rights activist doesn’t always want the spotlight. “I stay home a lot. I'm just not very social, " Jolie told Marie Claire.

11. Jeb Bush

Jeb Bush speaks in Germany

While his brother was almost certainly an extrovert, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is the quieter one. "I’m kind of introverted," he told CNN, while discussing the need to distinguish himself from his family during his run for the Republican nomination for president.

12. Meryl Streep


“I’m much more of an introvert [than my mother]. I’m much more inclined to want to not say anything in public," Streep told Vanity Fair. "When I have to be in the spotlight, I think to myself, Mary [Streep] could do it. It’s a good thing, to imagine yourself doing something you think you can’t. I do that every day, because basically, if I had my way, I’d just stay home and think about what I’m having for supper."