There is an implicit cultural axiom that extroverts make better leaders, causing managers to often feel concerned with the effect of their personality on leadership. Recently, however, people have begun to acknowledge and appreciate introverted leaders. In fact, publications such as Entrepreneur, Huffington Post, and HBR have all pointed out the advantages of being an introverted leader.
With this in mind, who, really, makes a better leader—the introvert or the extrovert?
The answer is neither. You can stop reading the article now, since you have your answer, right?
But asking the question raises tactical questions about the relative merits or demerits of one’s innate personality upon his or her leadership.
Any personality type—introvert, extrovert, ambivert, or any other vert on the continuum—can be a capable and effective leader. Leadership success does not depend on one’s personality.
But your personality does have a lot to do with your leadership approach.
If you’re an introvert, what personality advantages should you be aware of as you tackle a new project or on-board a new team member? For extroverts, should you keep in mind any limitations surrounding your communication style in meetings?
It’s important for managers to understand their personality, be aware of the disadvantages, highlight their advantages, and become a better leader through their personality.
Are you an introvert or extrovert?
Your style matters, and here’s why.
Both introverts and extroverts have unique advantages and disadvantages. Knowing these unique traits and responding appropriately will position you for leadership success.
It’s important to keep in mind that one’s introversion or extroversion is not an all-or-nothing affair. Individuals fall somewhere on a continuum of introversion or extroversion.
Another important factor regarding introversion and extroversion is that you may behave differently depending on the context. In some situations, you might exhibit classic introverted traits, but another situation you act like a total extrovert.
The reason for the differences is that one’s situation — time of day, energy level, comfort level with others, etc. — influence introverted or extroverted behavior.
Because extroversion and introversion are scaled and fluid traits, it’s impossible to know just how many people are introverted vs. extroverted people there are in the population.
Most researchers concur that there are more extroverts in the population than introverts — anywhere from 50-75% of the population is probably extroverted.
Figuring out your personality type.
To find out where you fall on the introversion/extroversion scale, I recommend taking a free online test. Lifehack.org's personality test takes only a few minutes, and provides a helpful summary.
A quick way to know whether you’re an introvert or extrovert is to ask yourself this simple question:
Do I gain energy from being around people, or do these kinds of interactions drain me?
Extroverts are energized when they are around people. An evening of socializing recharges them.
Introverts, on the other hand, may feel the need to spend some time alone after an event. Introverts gain their energy from being alone.
Responding to your personality type.
Obviously, extroversion or introversion isn’t an issue of better or worse. Different personality types have varying strengths depending on the situation.
The important thing is to be aware of your personality type so that you can respond to the strengths and weaknesses based on your personal situation. Understanding your personal leadership style allows you to become a better leader.
Often, leaders become frustrated, because they are trying to be like some other leader that they admire. Perhaps they’ve read about powerful business leaders like Jeff Bezos or Howard Schultz. So they decide to act like Bezos and Schultz, thinking that perhaps they will lead like they lead, and hopefully attain success like they’ve attained.
The problem with this approach is that we aren’t Jeff Bezos or Howard Schultz. Howard Schultz might be an introvert. You may be an extrovert. Thus, you gain energy in different ways, and respond to social situations with varying approaches.
The principle is this: When you understand where you fall on the introversion/extroversion continuum, you are better able to improve as a leader.
In the remainder of this article, I discuss through the disadvantages and advantages of extroverted and introverted leaders. Keep in mind that this list of advantages and disadvantages is not exhaustive.
More importantly, please be aware that I’m painting with broad brushstrokes. Introversion and extroversion are highly nuanced qualities, changing constantly based on context and individuals. When I write extroverts are...this or that, and introverts act...this way or that way, keep in mind that it may not always be the case. There are plenty of “ifs,” “ands” or “buts” that surround each claim.
Advantages of Extroverted Leaders
You are comfortable in social situations.
Extroverts don’t have a problem jumping into a group of people, and making immediate connections, and even friendships. This serves as a powerful asset in work situations, especially if the job requires meeting new clients or customers on a regular basis.
You tend to make decisions quickly.
Rapid decision making is necessary in many business situations. Most extroverts find it relatively easy to make such decisions with little delay. In fact, it can bother them when decisions aren’t made quickly.
You have the inherent advantage of being viewed as an effective leader by virtue of your personality.
Basically, in the culture at large, people assume that extroverts are better leaders. It’s a social bias, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with this perception insofar as it’s true. The fact is, however, one’s leadership ability is not dependent upon their being an introvert or extrovert.
You can use passion and personality as a leadership tool.
What resources do you draw on as a leader? Some leaders may benefit from their physique or appearance. Other leaders may benefit from their knowledge or training. As a Wharton article explains, extroverts can benefit from their passion and personality. Extroverts tend to possess a greater range of passionate behavior (both positive and negative), and have more noticeable personal personal flair than introverts. These traits allow them to have a high degree of recognition and presence in a workplace.
Disadvantages of Extroverted Leaders
You may accidentally overlook the needs and work style of introverts.
Introverts and extroverts have widely varying social needs. Since extroverts tend to gain energy from being around people, they may be more likely to call more meetings, ask for more huddles, get into more lively discussions, and encourage more brainstorming sessions.
This kind of activity can wear out an introvert. Instead of getting an energy buzz or a creative inspiration from a “brainstorming session,” they might simply close up and tune out. Introverts gain their energy from quiet reflection, small group meetings, or time spent alone.
Introverts may function well as remote workers, getting more done and achieving greater success due to time spent alone. Extroverts may not be aware that people function this way, and may tend to overlook the advantages of remote work.
You may find it difficult to accept input or involvement from others in meetings and group discussions.
Extroverts are often great talkers. In a group setting, it’s easy to get carried away and just keep on talking. Extroverts find it difficult to accept silence as a productive use of meeting time, so they will talk to fill the void.
This talkativeness may create a barrier for more reserved people who take time to warm up to a conversation. Talking isn’t a bad thing, but it can be counterproductive when the goal of a meeting is to get input from other team members.
Susan Cain’s nugget of wisdom in her book, Quiet, sums up the principle bluntly: “There’s zero correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas.”
In extreme cases, you may even feel threatened by proactive team members who offer suggestions for improvement. It’s possible that you will have conflict with team members who possess high initiative, leadership ambition, and/or extroverted qualities.
Advantages of Introverted Leaders
You are more likely to listen to and respond to feedback from team members.
Introverts tend to listen better than extroverts. This penchant for listening makes them more approachable. When they hear good suggestions and feedback, they are also more likely to respond to it, making the appropriate changes.
Team members are more likely to form strong loyalties to you.
Introverts aren’t social isolates. Rather, they are selective in whom they allow into their circle of trust. In a work situation, introvert leaders create a strong social connections with their employees. This plays to their advantage when they assign tasks or ask team members to rise to challenges.
You are able to get a lot of actual work
While extroverts may be highly productive from a social perspective, they might find it difficult to shut the door, put their head down, and get to work. For introverts, however, silent stretches of solo work come as a welcome relief, and are even a source of energy. Introverts have a higher tendency to concentrate longer, and solve problems with greater determination.
You are better able to get a pulse on the social temperature of a team.
Introverts are socially sensitive, meaning that they can identify and gauge what’s going on with the mood and attitude the people around them. They are more likely to pick up on nonverbal language and other cues in their team members. This social awareness gives them a greater level of insight, and may even allow them to serve as an arbitrator between team members who are having a conflict.
Disadvantages of Introverted Leaders
You must work against a cultural bias that sees introverts as less capable leaders. A Harvard report states
that 65% of corporate high-level executives “viewed introversion as a barrier to leadership” This may or may not be true, but it does indicate a widely accepted viewpoint, whether people are aware of their own viewpoint or not, that favors extroversion and places an opprobrium upon introversion.
Gratefully, this cultural bias against introverts seems like it’s being countered. The recent spate of articles and books discussing the “introvert advantage” is making room for a wider cultural acceptance of introverted leaders.
You may be tired after a single meeting.
Introverts are drained by social situations. Even something as commonplace as a one hour meeting can flatten them. To recharge, they may need to spend the remainder of the day, or at least an hour or two, alone.
You may find it difficult to speak up, or to present your ideas in a forthright way.
Introverts tend to talk less and listen more. Often, this is an advantage. In some cases, however, a leader is called upon to do more speaking. Introverts may find this difficult to do, especially if they are socially worn out, or haven’t had the time to give thought to what they want to say.
There’s no one right way to be a leader. Your unique qualities as an introvert or extrovert do not render you more or less likely to be a good leader.
What does matter is how you respond to your personality type. Playing to your strengths, and responding to your weaknesses, regardless of your personality type, will help you become a better leader.