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Do Extroverts Really Make Better Leaders?

Contents

Introduction

You probably have a “Bill” in your office. He’s that gregarious guy who is quick to volunteer for projects, strike up a conversation or sell an idea. He’s oozing with confidence and is popular.

“I’ll do it!” Bill will immediately chirp. “What’s my budget? When can I get started? And who’s on my team?”

 Bill is your classic Type-A personality. He can rally the troops to do just about anything at just about any time. He could get people pumped up to sell beachfront property in Kansas if he wanted to, and he could probably do it better, faster and cheaper than anyone else — at least that’s what he’d freely tell you.

He is an amazing guy — everyone knows it — but is he really the best one to be in charge? What about “Tim” over there? Tim hasn’t said anything yet, and he probably won’t until the end of the meeting. Unlike Bill, Tim comes alive when he’s alone or in a smaller group. When he does finally speak, Tim will sound cautious, quiet and reserved.

“We should probably think through this first,” Tim will finally say. “I don’t know that beachfront property in Kansas is necessarily a good idea. Is there research out there we could look at?”

Here’s the big question: Can a slower-moving introvert really be an effective manager? Or are fast-talking extroverts better at taking charge? The answer depends, according to several recent articles published on the subject.

Extroverts

In the United States and other Western cultures, the Bills of the world are more likely to snag the spot of leader. After all, the quick-thinking, fast-acting people usually score the upper hand when it comes to promotions.

That’s according to an article in the online version of Psychology Today, a mental health-focused magazine. Extroverts, the article says, are naturally better networkers because “they build the right connections and get noticed by the right people.”

However, since extroverts are often poor listeners who tend to trample others and act without thinking, their leadership capabilities can be subpar, the Psychology Today article explains. That said, extroverts are almost always better leaders than introverts when the team members are lazy and require lots of spoon-fed motivation.

“Extroverted leaders who want their subordinates to be more proactive, engaged, and individually productive may create group members who are, in contrast, passive and nonproductive,” the magazine says. “According to dominance complementarity theory, groups get along better when the leaders and group members balance their tendencies to run the show.”

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Introverts

Other publications insist that introverts are better suited as leaders, especially if the people they’re in charge of are proactive extroverts.

This is what a study published in the Academy of Management Journal found. The publication, which is a peer-reviewed academic journal on management, says that introverted leaders — who are usually better at listening than extroverts — can take a team of Type-As and make them super productive and motivated.

Conversely, a team of extroverts managed by an extrovert will only find frustration, the journal says. The reason this combo doesn’t work is because the extroverted leader won’t listen to all of their good ideas and for a group who feel they must be heard, that can be disastrous.

Others say introverts are always better leaders, regardless of who they’re in charge of.

A fascinating YouTube video called “The Power Of Introverts” is based on book “Quiet” by Susan Cain. The contents of the video, and the TED Talk it’s based on, agree that introverts are always better leaders because they’re more calculated and more likely to listen.

Unfortunately, Cain says, introverts, who include up to half of the population, are often passed over for leadership positions even though they “tend to be very careful and much less likely to take outsize risks.” The list of well-known introverts includes Dr. Seuss, Rosa Parks, Gandhi and Eleanor Roosevelt.

Ambiverts

Sometimes neither extroverts nor introverts make the best leaders.

This is according to Adam Grant, a professor at University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Management, whose introvert-versus-extrovert research is quoted widely throughout almost all of the publications cited in this blog post.

An article in Psychological Science tracked Grant’s research about the performance of introverted and extroverted salespeople at a software company. The experiment is applicable to leaders because they are almost always considered quasi-salespeople.

The results of the experiment were surprising. The introverts performed the worst in the experiment, making the least money: $120 per hour. The extroverts scored slightly better at $125 per hour. But a third group outpaced everyone, raking in a whopping $155 an hour. The winners? That would be “ambiverts,” a term for folks who aren’t introverted or extroverted.

“They’re not quiet, but they’re not loud,” explains author Daniel H. Pink, who, in January, discussed Grant’s research in a column in The Washington Post. “They know how to assert themselves, but they’re not pushy.”

Extroverts talk too much and introverts are sometimes too shy to initiate or deliver bad news. Ambiverts strike the right balance, Pink explains.

“They know when to speak up and when to shut up, when to inspect and when to respond, when to push and when to hold back,” he says.

Conclusion

While it depends on the situation as to which kind of personality is the best kind of leader, one thing’s for sure: all personality types have something to learn.

Grant suggests that extroverts should calm down and learn to listen. Introverts need to take heart and seek after leadership opportunities over groups of extroverts.

What are your thoughts? Who are the leaders in your company? What are the qualities you look for most in a leader? 

Next Step: Develop Leadership Capabilities and Improve Organizational Performance

Poor leadership can cost organizations millions of dollars each year. From frontline managers all the way up to the executive team, all leaders possess a significant responsibility in inspiring, motivating, and coaching employees. Find out how to implement activities that change behavior in this guide, which includes:

  • Common pitfalls in most leadership training
  • Benefits of building effective leadership skills
  • Pros and cons of different leadership training methods
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