There’s 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.
So who, really, makes a better leader—the introvert or the extrovert?
The answer is neither. But asking the question raises tactical questions about the ways your innate personality may influence your 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 your personality.
But your personality does have a lot to do with your leadership approach.
As a manager, it’s important to understand your personality—both its advantages and its disadvantages—so you can leverage it to become a better leader.
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 your introversion or extroversion is not an all-or-nothing affair. You fall somewhere on a continuum of introversion or extroversion.
And you may behave differently depending on the context—time of day, energy level, comfort level with others, etc. You might exhibit classic introverted traits in one situation, while acting like a total extrovert in another.
Because extroversion and introversion are scaled and fluid traits, it’s impossible to know just how many people are introverted vs. extroverted. But most researchers agree there are more extroverts than introverts: Anywhere from 50-74% of the population is probably extroverted.
To find out where you fall on the introversion/extroversion scale, I recommend taking a free online test.
But 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 interactions drain me?
Obviously, extroversion or introversion isn’t an issue of better or worse. Different personality types have varying strengths and weaknesses depending on the situation. The important thing is to be aware of your personality type so you can adapt accordingly.
When you understand where you fall on the introversion/extroversion continuum, you’re better able to improve as a leader. So let’s take a moment to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of extroverted and introverted leaders.
Keep in mind that this list 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, it may not always be the case. There are plenty of “ifs,” “ands,” or “buts” to go around.
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.
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.
Basically, in the culture at large, people assume 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 does not depend upon their introversion or extroversion.
What resources do you draw on as a leader? Some leaders may benefit from their experience, 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 flair than introverts. These traits allow them to have a high degree of recognition and presence in a workplace.
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 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.
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.
In Susan Cain’s book Quiet, her nugget of wisdom 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 you could have conflict with team members who possess high initiative, leadership ambition, and/or extroverted qualities.
Introverts tend to listen better than extroverts. This penchant for listening makes them more approachable. When they hear good suggestions and feedback, they’re also more likely to respond to it, making the appropriate changes.
Introverts aren’t social isolates. Rather, they’re selective about the people they allow into their circle of trust. In a work situation, introvert leaders create strong social connections with their employees. This plays to their advantage when they assign tasks or ask team members to rise to challenges.
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.
Introverts are socially sensitive, meaning they can identify and gauge what’s going on with the mood and attitude of the people around them. They’re 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.
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 bias or not—that favors extroversion and stigmatizes 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.
Introverts are drained by social situations. Even something as commonplace as a 1-hour meeting can flatten them. To recharge, they may need to spend the remainder of the day, or at least an hour or 2, alone.
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’re socially worn out or haven’t had the time to give thought to what they want to say.
There’s no single right way to lead a team, and your introversion or extroversion doesn’t make or break your leadership potential.
What does matter is how you respond to your personality type. Playing to your strengths and responding to your weaknesses will help you become a leader your team can look up to.
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