By Dominique Jones, Chief People Officer, Halogen Software
How often have you been involved in a debate about the relative merit of introverts vs. extrovert as leaders? When we think about what makes a great leader, the ability to excite others about your ideas, to generate followership and inspire into action come to mind. Typically, we tend to associate the extrovert stereotype with these leadership characteristics. But is that right or wrong? Or better?
A poll from USA Today showed that 65 percent of executives perceive introversion as a barrier to leadership, and a mere six percent believe introverts make better leaders.
But before we throw our feet up and call this case solved, let’s take a look at what both extroverts and introverts bring to the table.
The main thing you need to know about extroverts is they are energized by being around other people. They love social interaction and engagement and tend to think best out loud. Conversely, extroverts often “fade” without other people around and can become easily bored by being alone.
As a leader, extroverts are quick-thinking and fast acting. They’re natural networkers and great at building the right connections. Since extroverts feed off of activity, they are often less distracted by office hustle and bustle. Their energy can be infectious, so they can be a great addition to a team that requires lots of motivation.
While extroverts thrive around big crowds and lots of activity, introverts can find this utterly draining. Instead, introverts tend to thrive with solitary, often creative pursuits. Introversion is often mistakenly interchanged with shyness. In reality, many introverts can socialize easily, they just prefer not to in large groups. They’re also likely to be more selective in their interactions – I know, being an introvert!
As leaders, introverts take time to observe, process, and think through decisions. They’re often reflective and good at seeing the big picture and coming up with creative solutions to problems that arise. Introverted leaders make great planners. Introverted leaders can also often be more astute and in tune with hidden cues, empathetic and more interpersonally connected than their extroverted counterparts.
So, what’s the verdict?
Do extroverts, with their natural energy and enthusiasm, make the best leaders? Or do introverts take the cake with their quiet reflection and creativity?
At the end of the day, both introverts and extroverts can be leaders. What the true difference of effective leadership boils down to is the ability to manage one’s personality style and adapt to meet the diverse needs of different members of your teams.
Sometimes an extrovert’s greatest strength can also be their biggest weakness. Since extroverts are quick to jump to action, they can inadvertently steam roll quieter members of their team. Many extroverted leaders need to learn when to step back and give room for their team to contribute valuable ideas.
Fast-talking extroverts can sometimes trade accuracy for speed and often speak before they think, making them prone to gaffes, for instance, reacting emotionally when a frustrating situation arises. Extroverts can take a page from introvert’s book, remembering to stop and think about their actions before quickly jumping to decisions.
Since introverts tend to like alone time and can come across as shy, their team may not want to “bother them.” As a result, introverts can be thought of as difficult to approach with questions or ideas by team members. Conversely to extroverts, many introverted leaders must learn to modify their behavior to be more outgoing and friendly to members on their team. They will also sometimes need to step outside their comfort zone in large-group social situations.
Introvert or extrovert, being aware of your own personality and habits and when to modify them allows you to help your team members grow, contribute and succeed – and isn’t that what being a great leader is really all about?