For the last few weeks, I have been diligently researching material for a new online program I am doing next month titled Success Strategies for the Introverted Leader: “Quiet” CAN win the day! and I came across this very interesting 2011 paper that I couldn’t resist sharing on the blog today. A study in the Academy of Management Journal looked at whether your tendency to be an extrovert or an introvert affects your ability to be a good leader. First let me quickly define the two. Contrary to popular belief, the difference between extroverts and introverts is not how outgoing or shy a person is, but rather where the person’s energy comes from. Introverts lose energy from being around people for long periods of time, particularly large crowds, and tend to recharge by spending time alone. Extroverts, on the other hand, gain energy from other people; they actually find their energy is sapped when they spend too much time alone. They recharge by being social.
Current mainstream experience and the popular press tends to suggest that extroversion is a better indicator of leadership effectiveness, but researchers Grant, Gino and Hofmann discovered that this is not the case. To answer the question posed in the title of this post, whether or not extroverts or introverts are more effective as leaders depends on the motivation and skill level of the employee being supervised.Extroverted leaders do well when their employees are passive; but this effect reverses when employees are proactive, because extroverted leaders tend to be less receptive to proactivity. Proactive employees on the other hand actually thrive better under introverted leadership. The researchers conducted two separate studies to investigate and verify the same hypothesis. In the first study, franchise operations of an American national pizza delivery company were examined and leaders that rated high on the extrovert scale achieved higher profits when they were working with employees who were passive. In the same company, leaders who rated high in introversion achieved higher profits when working with employees who were proactive. The second study was conducted in a laboratory environment but constructively replicated the same findings.
So what does that mean practically for leaders? Well, one, that despite all the popular press that suggests otherwise, introversion is actually a desirable leadership trait. Introverted leaders rejoice! Two, whether you tend towards the extroverted or introverted end of the scale, it is of great value to cultivate skills at the other end of the spectrum. And finally, there is great value in flexing your leadership style along the extroversion-introversion continuum in order to motivate the highest levels of performance from all your staff.
So this is what the research showed but I am keenly interested in your actual experiences. Are you seeing what the researchers found? Please share your perspectives by adding your comments below.