Introvert Or Extrovert?
For business leaders, one size does not fit all.
People assume that extroverts make the best leaders. However, introverts are uniquely positioned to navigate problems that their counterparts can struggle with, and the best leaders will in fact demonstrate a hybrid style that adopts flexible elements of both personality types.
- The study of introverts and extroverts
- The blend of both
- Extroverted leaders, pros and cons
- Introverted leaders, pros and cons
- How the best leaders adapt
There’s a tendency to assume that leaders need to be extroverts. And that’s not surprising when you consider the example set by high-profile leaders.
Most leaders in the public eye exhibit outgoing, social tendencies. They are confident public speakers, tend to hold down key spots at big events and are frequently interviewed or profiled in news media. It all combines to support the idea that good leaders are genial, gregarious and hyper confident.
Research in this area tends to support the idea that extroverts have inherent advantages in business leadership, including an edge in motivating others, building quicker and more lasting relationships and, in general, generating better results than introvert leaders.
Does that mean you need to be an extrovert to be a successful leader? Oddly, although many qualities that we want all leaders to have – deep thinker, collaborative, the ability to keep their cool in a crisis, compassionate – are more often found in quiet, introverted leaders.
In this guide, we explore how the characteristics traits of both extroverts and introverts and explain why all leaders can benefit from a hybrid approach to leadership.
The terms introvert and extrovert were created in 1921 by Carl Jung, a Swiss psychoanalyst, who studied how different personality types reacted to external stimuli. He theorized that extroverts direct their energies outwards towards other people, while introverts focus their energy inwards in a more solitary manner.
Jung’s work was advanced by other researchers who were looking for ways of categorizing and understanding leaders of teams and businesses. Psychologist and author Kurt Lewin famously identified what he calls the three “styles” of leadership behavior: autocratic, democratic, and laissez-faire. Together, his model creates a spectrum that captures many of the qualities that Jung associated with extroverts and introverts.
Additional research in the 1950s and 1960s by German psychologist, Hans Eysenck, whose research found that extroverts needed more stimulus and excitement to be satisfied, while introverts needed much less stimulation. Subsequent neurological research backed up Eysenck’s work, finding that there are actually differences in the brains of extroverts and introverts.
If we take the entire body of research together, we are left with distinct characteristics that have become closely associated with introverts and extroverts.
- Energy comes from within
- Keep their public image separate from their private image
- Shy around others
- Have few close friends
- Are quiet in large groups
- Can concentrate without being distracted for a long period of time
- Think carefully before speaking
- Love to observe when learning
- Take time to make decisions to consider all possibilities
- Contain their emotions, sometimes to their detriment
- Energy comes from social interactions
- Public and private images are very similar
- Very sociable;
- Makes friends with relative ease
- Outspoken in large groups;
- Can be easily distracted and may find it hard to focus
- Tend to think out loud and often driven by their emotions
- Typically learn from doing things rather than observing
- Are prone to rash decisions
- Unafraid to speak their mind in almost any situation
After scanning these two lists, it’s easy to think that introverts and extroverts are mutually exclusive from each other. In reality, nobody is a pure introvert or extrovert; most of us demonstrate qualities from both lists.
For example, someone may be very sociable but still only consider a small portion of their acquaintances as close friends. Similarly, someone may be occasionally make quick, emotionally driven decisions even though they’re more accustomed to carefully planning their response.
The blend of both
While both introverts and extroverts have their places in the world of business, it’s important to understand that there are benefits and drawback to both leadership styles. In fact, it could be argued that good leaders have both extroverted and introverted qualities and the self-awareness to know when to adopt each style.
For example, there are quite a few successful business leaders who describe themselves as largely introverted. Like Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, former Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett and Jeff Bezos, the founder and CEO of Amazon.
However, while all these leaders may demonstrate qualities of introverts, they can also exhibit extrovert qualities when needed. All of the leaders mentioned above are comfortable in front of a microphone, making many of the highest-profile announcements for their companies. They are unflappable in media interviews and take the point to speak to any controversies their companies may be drawn into.
Let’s look at some of the qualities associated with both styles of leadership to see which are desirable and which need to be kept in check.
The ability of extroverts to make decisions quickly can be a tremendous advantage in certain business scenarios. They are quick to establish relationships with their team members and because they aren’t afraid to speak their minds, they are effective at holding everyone accountable. Research has also shown that extroverted leaders often garner loyalty and trust because they exude strength and confidence.
In outward-facing situations, because extroverts usually have no trouble becoming the center of attention, they are quick to make meaningful connections with clients. As such, it’s not surprising to find many extrovert leaders working in the demanding world of sales.
Extroverted leaders can be prone to neglecting the welfare of their workers, particularly anyone who demonstrates introverted qualities. Teams are comprised of many different personality types; while some respond well to an extroverted leader and appreciate their willingness to speak their minds and make decisions quicker, others need time to think about their tasks and plan ahead. Extroverted leaders tend to require their teams to mirror the extroverted approach and can be hard on anyone who doesn’t get with the program.
Extroverted leaders also find it hard to delegate or collaborate with others. Since they’re accustomed to pushing their own points of view and agendas, it may be difficult for them to accept help anyone else or share decision making. That can manifest in conflict and toxic relationships.
Given their preference to carefully consider decisions and study the landscape carefully before acting, introverted leaders tend to be great listeners. Introverted leaders love hearing suggestions from their teams and are open to adopting someone else’s idea if it makes sense. Along with their capacity for listening and preference for collaboration, introverted leaders often display qualities like empathy and compassion, the hallmarks of emotional intelligence.
Although it may take a little longer for people warm up to an introverted leader, over time relationships can become extremely strong as introverts are more likely to create meaningful social connections with employees.
Introverts are also known for having better focus and concentration, particularly when faced with a crisis. Teams with an introverted leader tend to be more productive and innovative over the long haul.
Given their quieter approach, introverts can be wrongly assumed to be weak or ineffective. In fact, surveys have shown that executives see introversion as a problem in business leadership. As such, there’s generally a bias against introverted leaders that can cause their teams lose faith in them.
Introverts often find it hard to engage in large social gatherings such as meetings or public events where they’re expected to interact with others. This tendency may make it difficult for them to add their voice to discussions and decisions. Just as extroverts have trouble managing introvert team members, introvert leaders may also find it difficult to cope and build strong working relationships with extroverted employees.
Although most academic research into this topic tends to give an advantage to extroverted leaders, there is a growing body of work suggesting that introverts have value, as well. Susan Cain, author of several books on the advantages of a more introverted approach to leadership, has argued that there is “zero correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas.”
Indeed, while silence and listening can sometimes be portrayed as signs of weakness, there has been a growing awareness that being an effective listener can be just as effective as being a loud talker when it comes to leadership.
Many extroverted leaders find it difficult to listen to what people around them are saying. Because they tend to be emotionally driven, it’s not uncommon for them to focus more on their responses or comment rather than considering what others are saying.
In reality, all business leaders need to have both introverted and extroverted qualities. More importantly, leaders need to have the flexibility to adopt and display the qualities that will elicit the best results from their teams or organizations.
A 2011 Harvard Business School study involved an experiment where a number of groups of students were asked to fold t-shirts in a competition to win an iPod. The study found that groups with introverted leaders and passive members failed because they could not engage or motivate each other. On the other hand, groups with extroverted leaders and proactive members were in constant conflict with each other, and groups led by extroverts but comprised of passive members got the task done but failed to generate new ideas.
You can draw a number of conclusion from this study, but in general it does seem to suggest that good leaders apply the style and approach that is most appropriate given the personalities of the people on their teams. So, as Cain would argue, extroverts can’t always be the best leaders because some people don’t respond well to extroverts.
There definitely should be an effort to eliminate the stigma against introverted leaders and to stop focusing on extroverts as de-facto leaders in business. Just as we should stop assuming that extroverts are natural leaders.
After digging deep into both leadership styles, it’s easy to see that . However, it’s important to include both introverted and extroverted qualities to create the leadership style that best suits your team and organization. That is going to require leaders to step outside their comfort zones and, at times, suppress some of their natural tendencies for the good of the team.
Good leaders are not mostly loud, or mostly quiet. Good leaders are loud and outgoing when they need to be. And they are quiet and reflective when their teams need to be heard. Finding a balance between introvert and extrovert will provide your people with the leader they really need.