Leadership: Introverted does not mean ineffective

People often say that employees don’t leave jobs, they leave managers. While there could be some truth in this, is this phrase more reflective of the difficulty in finding the right “fit” between a leader and their team? What are the qualities of a good manager? How do these differ depending on the team? One of the Big Five personality factors that HR and I/O  practitioners often look to for answers on leadership “fit” is Introversion-Extroversion.  For those of us who are less familiar with these terms, introverts and extroverts draw their energy from different sources, either internally from reflection, or externally from other people (respectively). People from all walks of life can be either introverts or extroverts, and both styles have an equal proportion of strengths, and development areas.  Historically, Western society tends to favour extroversion, with a US study finding that 65% of Senior Corporate Executives perceive introversion to be a barrier to effective leadership (Grant, Gino and Hoffman 2010). Furthermore, there appears to be more individuals describing themselves as highly extroverted in executive level roles (60%), than in supervisory level roles (30%) (Ones and Dilchert 2009). Regardless of this social bias, every working style has strengths it can bring to leadership, as well as potential barriers to performance. There are situations where introverted leaders can make good bosses and can be more effective than their extroverted peers. 

Grant and colleagues (2010) suggest that while extroverts may be good at leading conversations, they may also strive to be the centre of attention and may dominate a discussion with their ideas. On the other hand, introverted leaders tend to be more skilled at managing the engagement of proactive or vocal teams as they tend to display more active listening skills and are more receptive to suggestions (Grant et al. 2010). Recent research by these authors assessed the impact leadership style (introversion/extroversion) and employee working style had on profits across a franchised organisation. They found that when employees weren’t proactive, extroverted leadership was associated with 16% higher profits compared to the franchise average. However, when employees are autonomous, or provide their own ideas, introverted leadership is associated with 14% higher profits than the franchise average.

These findings suggest that introverted leadership can directly influence bottom line outcomes, which contradicts the notion that only extroverts can be good leaders. It may indicate that introverted leadership is actually more of a competitive advantage than extroverted leadership in organisations relying on creative, proactive, and driven employees.   An introverted leadership style may encourage employees to provide their opinions and ideas for innovation. With a greater preference for listening and reflecting, introverted leaders may also make good coaches and may develop greater connections with employees by listening to their concerns, hopes and dreams. Their more reserved style may also suit more independent employees who like the autonomy to make their own decisions. While an extroverted leadership style has its benefits, developing innovation, assertiveness and accountability may be best facilitated by a more introverted style.  Introverts can rejoice (quietly of course!), that their introspective nature can be a competitive advantage!

What strengths do you think introverted leaders bring to the table? Given the choice, what leadership style would you prefer?

 

Grant, A. M., Gino, F., and Hofmann, D. A., (2010). The hidden advantages of a quiet boss. Harvard Business Review, Dec 2010.

Onez, D., Dilchert, S., (2009). How special are Executives? Industrial Organisational Psychology, 2009.

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