Who are Better Leaders — Extroverts or Introverts?
Organizations, pop culture and the media are dominated by extroverts. We tend to reward extroverts who enjoy human interactions and tend to be enthusiastic, talkative, assertive, and gregarious. Extroverts are energized and thrive off being around other people. They take pleasure in activities that involve large social gatherings, such as parties, community activities, public demonstrations, and business or political groups. They also tend to work well in groups. An extroverted person is likely to find less reward in time spent alone and they are more prone to boredom when they are by themselves.
Recently, much has been written about whether extroverts or introverts are better leaders. Last year, I wrote an article describing how introverts may be better leaders. In it, I said, “Our culture, particularly in business and politics, seems to be in love with the charismatic, extroverted leader — the guns blazing, no-holds-barred, center-of-attention leader — who is a super confident if not arrogant, aggressively decisive leader of a band of star-struck followers. This stereotype of a leader appears to be an integral part of American individualistic society, even though most modern economies and societies have become more collective and workers more educated.
Movies, television and the news media have significantly influenced our popular image of leaders — from Bill Clinton and Lee Iacocca to Larry Ellison, and Donald Trump — for the past three decades. This stereotypical view of charismatic, extroverted individuals has been associated with what we want and expect in our leaders.”
Extroverted leaders are valued highly regardless of the reality of their performance. The status and reputation of quiet, introverted leadership are undervalued and under-appreciated. Despite decades of research on leadership pointing to other less demonstrative skills that are needed, extroverts are still favored in recruiting and promoting decisions.
In a study published in Psychological Science, Daniel C. Feiler of Dartmouth University found that extroverts tend to be overrepresented in social networks. Because outgoing, popular people tend to have a lot of friends, they are disproportionately represented in social networks. “If you’re more extroverted, you may have a skewed view of how extraverted other people are in general,” explained Feiler, “If you’re very introverted you might have a pretty accurate idea.”
Mistaking introversion for shyness is a common error. Introversion is a preference, while shyness stems from distress. Introverts prefer solitary to social activities, but do not necessarily fear social encounters as shy people do. Author of the best-selling book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,Susan Cain says American culture is dominated by what she calls the “Extrovert Ideal”, described as “the omnipresent belief that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha and comfortable in the spotlight”. Western societies, being based on the Greco-Roman ideal which praises oratory, favor the man of action over the man of contemplation, and view introversion as being between a disappointment and pathology, she says. In contrast, traditional Asian culture is more inclined to value reticence and caution.
Cain argues that modern Western culture misjudges the capabilities of introverted people, leading to a waste of talent, energy, and happiness. She describes how society is biased against introverts, and that, with people being taught from childhood that to be sociable is to be happy, introversion is now considered “somewhere between a disappointment and pathology.”
Concerning the workplace, Cain critiques today’s perceived overemphasis on collaboration: Brainstorming leading to groupthink, and meetings leading to organizational inertia. Cain urges changes to the workplace to make it less focused on what she terms “The New Groupthink” — the idea that creativity and productivity emerge from a necessarily gregarious place — and more conducive to deep thought and solo reflection.
According to Cain, research shows that charismatic leaders earn bigger paychecks but do not have better corporate performance; that brainstorming results in lower quality ideas and the more vocally assertive extroverts are the most likely to be heard; that the amount of space allotted to each employee has shrunk 60% since the 1970s; and that open office plans are associated with reduced concentration and productivity, impaired memory, higher turnover and increased illness. Cain says that the more creative people tend to be “socially poised introverts,” solitude is a crucial and underrated ingredient for creativity, and office designs and work plans should allow people to be alone as well as to socialize.
Enter the Ambivert
Although each of these identities has advantages and disadvantages, there seems to be an ongoing discussion regarding which is preferable. Some claim that the internet has a “love affair” with introverts and that being one is finally cool, especially in light of the epidemic. That’s probably a response to a society that has long seemed to promote and reward extroverts, especially in many Western nations and in the workplace, where they can put their innate people skills to use. Even though the confident demeanour of an extrovert fits many people’s stereotype of a typical CEO, some study has indicated that introverts can outperform extroverts as leaders.
Which is it then? Who has the upper hand and performs better at work: gregarious, bubbly employees, or quiet, circumspect ones? The chameleon-like ambivert, who can be both, is the solution, it turns out.
According to experts, combining the greatest traits of both personality types might make you indispensable at work. And while it can be challenging at times to act both extrovert and introvert, with a little practice, we can all become adept at it.
The phrase “the ambivert advantage” was first used by psychology professor Adam Grant at the University of Pennsylvania in a 2013 study that questioned the idea that extroverts perform better and are more productive in a sales environment. Grant examined 340 call centre workers and discovered that those who scored in the middle of the extroversion scale generated the maximum sales revenue. The results fit a bell-shaped distribution, with the lowest performers being either extremely extroverted or extremely introverted employees.
According to Grant’s research, “ambiverts are likely to display sufficient assertiveness and excitement to persuade and close a deal” because they naturally participate in a fluid pattern of talking and listening. However, ambiverts are also “less prone to coming off as overly eager or confident and more ready to listen to consumers’ interests.”
According to Karl Moore, an associate professor of management at McGill University and an associate fellow at Oxford University who has studied ambiverts for years, based on interviews with 350 C-suite executives, 40% of top business leaders are extroverts, 40% are introverts, and 20% are “true ambiverts.” But he thinks that the pandemic’s unique conditions have compelled leaders of all stripes to attempt and behave more like ambiverts.
In his book, We Are All Ambiverts Now, Moore, the circumstances we were all put in called for more leaders to use their abilities as both extroverted and introverted individuals. For instance, to provide flexible and compassionate work conditions for employees, managers needed to hear what their workers had to say and act on it. However, they also needed to exude a strong sense of enthusiasm to energize and lead the team into the unknown.
A great leader is a terrific listener, according to Moore, thus the CEO must listen a lot going forward. But they must also be capable of saying, “Guys, I’m confident we can get through this problem.”
“Adapt to what’s required”
It’s advantageous to be an ambivert, whether dealing with sales data or navigating a once-in-a-century calamity. How do you become one? In fact, according to the experts, it’s highly feasible. You will be rated on a sliding scale of extroversion by the majority of widely used personality tests, therefore ambiversion is probably within your reach.
As opposed to believing you need to overhaul your entire personality, it’s more about adaptive leadership style. It’s more about developing your capacity to push yourself beyond your comfort zone than it is about focusing on your [perceived] flaws.
For his investigation, Moore collaborated with an introverted CEO named Claude Mongeau, who was formerly in charge of the Canadian National Railway. He claims that Mongeau worked with a leadership coach who handed him a clicker to keep account of every extroverted ability he practised every day, similar to the one a bouncer outside a nightclub uses to count patrons. Saying hello to someone or making a weather comment were examples of these little things. Moore claims he was still very much an introvert but realized he needed to use his extroverted side to be a successful CEO.
As an extrovert himself, Moore claims that embracing his ambivert side has benefited him in his profession as a researcher and for his radio show, in which he does CEO interviews. “I ask [the guest] questions such, ‘Where are you from, what does your family do?’ 98% of the time on my radio show.”
Knowing whether to use your natural social style oppositely depends on whether you’re an ambivert or not. According to Cohn, “the most effective leaders are those who can recognize a circumstance and modify their approach as needed.”
Being an Ambivert Can Be Energy Draining
The only drawback is how exhausting this adaptation can be. “You must behave in both ways. The issue is that it is exhausting, “Moore says.
But keep in mind that whether you are an extrovert or an introvert depends on where you get your energy from the outside world or your inner one. According to Cohn, doing so burns more “mental calories” than following your natural preferences, thus it’s crucial to replenish your mental energy.
For introverts, that can entail spending an afternoon by yourself at home reading a book or, if you’re at work, taking a 15-minute break alone outside on a bench. It might include being surrounded by people for extroverts. When Moore is on business, he likes to select a restaurant and have dinner at the bar where he can mingle with other customers. “It energizes me. I’m around people, which raises my dopamine levels.”
It’s critical to stress that few people fall firmly into either category. Being an ambivert, though, involves making more conscious decisions about which switch to press and when. Developing that talent could make a huge difference for you as well as the individuals you work with.
I think Moore’s perspective has merit, in that flexibility and adaptability are important keys to good leadership. However, I would still argue that the playing field is still significantly tilted in favor of extroverts when it comes to recruiting, selecting and promoting leaders in organizations, and research shows that introverted leaders are as effective, or more effective than many extroverted leaders.