Extroverts vs. Introverts as Leaders - Does it Matter?

Introverts can be just as effective as extroverts in leadership

I just finished reading The Girl Scouts', Change It Up!, study, which strongly correlates a girl's desire to be a leader with being extroverted.  

Really?  

It seems to be the truth if you troll the internet.  Everywhere I look, charisma and being a good public speaker, keep popping up as key leadership traits.

Is only a small portion of this planet destined to make the history books? 

I don’t buy it.  

I have been exposed to great leaders who were not classically charismatic but instead more on the quiet side.  And I have been exposed to not such great leaders who were extremely extroverted. 

How can, depending upon the study, 50%-70% of people (introverts) not be qualified to be leaders? Does this mean that introverts have to fake it to make it?  Does this really mean that if my daughter happens to be on the shy side I can just forget about her ever becoming a leader?  That, if I don’t hear the words “She’s so outgoing!” at the next parent-teacher conference, I can just give up?

This didn’t seem right.  I had the same feelings about this as when my father-in-law once said that women pilots weren't as good as men because one time out of every month their “decision-making was clouded by hormones”.  

My gut was strongly saying that "extrovert" does not equal "leader" just as "menstruation" does not equal "mentally compromised"!  I didn’t have very far to go to confirm my feelings. 

In the book, Quiet - The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain highlights research by Adam Grant, at Wharton.  Based upon Grant’s research, extroverts are only better leaders than introverts when they have passive employees.  However, introverts are better leaders than extroverts when they have proactive employees.  The theory is that introverts are better listeners and, therefore, able to pull out the good ideas in people. However, they can also be too passive when employees need to be pushed.  On the flip side, extroverts can actually push an organization along through sheer will, however, they sometimes push the organization off a cliff if they don’t take opposing or new ideas into consideration.

If this is true, then why the pervasive extroversion = leader assumption that constantly keeps coming up?

Author Malcolm Gladwell puts it best I think.  “We have a sense in our minds, of what a leader is supposed to look like, and that stereotype is so powerful that when someone fits it, we simply become blind to other considerations.”  We have also been influenced by many years of Trait Theory or ‘great person’ theory.  Does, “Great leaders are born, not made” ring a bell?

Martin Luther King was extroverted and Rosa Parks was incredibly introverted.  So although people recognize Ms. Parks’ great accomplishment, Martin Luther King is credited as being the actual leader in the classic sense.    

The Change It Up! study might indicate that being extroverted gives my daughter more desire or motivation to be a leader but being introverted gives her no less desire or motivation to change or impact her world. Isn’t that what true leadership is?  What about Eleanor Roosevelt?  Mahatma Gandhi?  Steve Wozniak?  Einstein? Talk about quiet, driven, principle-centered leaders. 

Maybe extroverts are more prone to organize a protest, create a ‘movement’, fire people up to take action than introverts, who might find that approach out of their comfort zone.  And introverts might be more comfortable or prone to lead with their ideas, or lead other people’s ideas forward.  Creatives come to mind here.  Deep thinkers (scientists, writers, mathematicians, inventors…), who change and lead the world with their ideas, discoveries or creations.  Or even people who can bring many different ideas together to create a new concept.  

I worry as I write this, that people will misunderstand that I believe that introverts can only operate as loners in this regard.  Again, introverts can lead people effectively, and apparently, sometimes more effectively than extroverts.  As proof, Chuck Williams in his book, MGMT 8, states that 40% of Fortune 500 companies are actually led by introverts. 

Both extroverts and introverts can lead by working with others and sometimes they can lead by working alone.

If I’m trying to find the key leadership traits that my daughter will need as she moves on through life, how does a temperament she is disposed to at birth, which isn’t controllable, and can’t be taught (although with a little practice she might fake it), really impact her? 

So, is it important or not?  

Actually, yes.  But not the way we've been taught to think about it.  I know, I know...I just got through proving that it isn't important.

Cain’s book and Grant’s research dismisses the notion of a binary relationship between temperament and the ability to lead.  Most importantly, it certainly isn’t correlated with GOOD leadership.  

This, I believe, is the important takeaway.  

Good leadership can be taught.  And each temperament seems to offer benefits the other can learn from.

If your daughter is already an extrovert, she will need to surround herself with proactive people, listen well to them and empower them to act on their ideas.  She will need to ask more questions than she's used to doing. She will need to work on being humble/modest, gracious in sharing credit, and most importantly, selfless.  Being selfless means she pursues answers for the organization and not for her own ego.  Otherwise, she risks just being perceived as outspoken, ego-centric and self-important.

If she is an introvert, Cain suggests working on “…“talking deeply” with others, working alone (really!), reading others' works ("a deeply social act"), listening well, taking mini-breaks from overstimulating environments, and practicing "quiet commitment.”  

I would also add trying to overcome any fear of public speaking or, if necessary, pair up with a like-minded and respectful public speaker who can give voice to her ideas and vision. There have been many famous introvert/extrovert teams throughout history to emulate.  Otherwise, your introverted daughter risks being perceived as unsure of herself and could fall victim to being pushed around by bellicose talkers who can persuade a team to "Group Think" (which is when a person with the best public speaking style in a group can drag the group over that cliff I mentioned earlier). 

My big a-ha here, as I look at my own child, is that whether or not she is extroverted or introverted, she most definitely can be a leader.  However, to be a good leader, she will need to work hard no matter what.  The path to being a good leader is just going to be different, depending upon her temperament.

Passion, drive and commitment to something are the true leadership traits.  Whether you are introverted or extroverted, this holds true. 

And so, I will put to bed the notion that somehow a trait you are more disposed to at birth, decides our fate.  On the contrary, both personalities have positives and negatives with respect to leadership.  

Identifying and accepting who we are (or who our daughter is) is the first step.  Learning from, and leveraging the temperament of others, is the next.

-Laura
 
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