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6 Sep 2012

Extroverted vs. Introverted Leaders – The Important Point

American business culture tends to prize extroverted traits over introverted ones. One online survey of 1,500 senior business leaders found that 65% saw introversion as a negative leadership quality.

So, now consider that The Atlantic (July/August 2012 edition) listed as one of their “23 ½ Biggest Ideas of the Year”: “Hire Introverts.” Susan Cain, the writer of the article about introverts as well as the book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, cites Adam Grant of Wharton school of management whose research shows that extroverts are not always the most successful leaders. He found the following:

  • Extroverted leaders did better when employees were non-proactive.
  • Introverted leaders did better when employees were proactive.

Introverted leaders (Lincoln and Gandhi) tended to do better with proactive employees because they were more likely to allow them to run with their ideas. Extroverted leaders (King and Welch), who tend to like the limelight, had more difficulty allowing their employees to have it.

While the public focus on this contrast is more on the better leaders, extroverts or introverts, there is a powerful underlying implication: leadership is more conditional than we think it is; meaning a good leader under one set of conditions might bomb under another set and a bad leader in one set could excel in another.

Now, consider the number of books proclaiming what good leadership is. The tendency is to proclaim standards that fit all situations. In reality the situation, not any set of arbitrary standards set by experts, will determine what good leadership is. Furthermore, the group’s culture (i.e. proactive, non-proactive) is a primary determinant.

The important point is this: leaders’ are heavily dependent upon their people for their success. It’s not only dependent upon their people’s skills but their personalities too.


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