​Introvert vs. Extrovert Leaders – Is one better than the other?

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For so long, extroverts have been in the limelight of leadership positions. When we think of a traditional and typical leader, these characteristics come to mind: Outspoken, bold, charismatic and gregarious. A study done by the University of North Carolina revealed that 96% of managers and top executives display extravert characteristics. It seems that the business landscape favours extroverts more than introverts. In recent years, an increasing number of universities have made classroom participation a key assessment. A large percentage of a student’s grade is based on how active they are in class. This supposedly encourages students to be more vocal and outspoken – an indication that extrovert qualities might well be preferred.

Do extroverts excel better in leadership roles? Let us first identify the typical characteristics of each personality before discussing the areas of leadership that they tend to excel in.

It is important to note that the majority of us have a mixture of both personalities, although one will be more dominant than the other. In fact, Carl Jung, the founder of this concept said, “there is no such thing as a pure extrovert or a pure introvert. Such a man would be in the lunatic asylum”.

Common traits of extroverts:

  • Highly and habitually sociable, active and lively
  • Comfortable being the focus of attention
  • Thrive in an active and fast-paced environment
  • Energised by other people
  • Learn through trial and error
  • Act out when stressed
  • Risk takers

Common traits of introverts:

  • Prefer solitude but are NOT necessarily shy or reserved
  • Quiet and reserved among unfamiliar people; sociable and gregarious with people they know very well
  • Introspective
  • Learn through observing
  • Require time to “recharge” alone
  • Withdraw under stress but remain calm
  • Make very calculated decisions and tend to be more risk averse

An extrovert’s high energy and enthusiasm often rub off on employees, which can inspire and motivate them. This means that they often excel in leadership roles where team engagement and motivation is key. However, when it comes to connecting one-on-one with employees, introverted leaders may perform better as they tend to put the attention on others, making them sharper at identifying the needs of others. Hence, they may be able to build better and long-term rapport with employees on an individual level. Asking an introvert to rally a team, however, could be nerve wrecking for them, as they prefer not to take center stage.

Constantly being in the center of attention may sometimes make extroverted leaders slightly egoistical. This can make them feel threatened by employees who take initiative and who challenge their visions and strategies. However, they are better at resolving conflicts in a team. While introverted leaders will be more open to ideas and opinions raised by subordinates, they prefer to avoid conflict and are less assertive with difficult employees. A confrontation should not be expected of them.

On the surface, introverts may look lost in stressful situations. However, they are actually “withdrawing” and “re-charging”, before attempting to tackle the stress. In fact, introverts are calmer than extroverts when stressed.

Extroverts are more impulsive when making decisions. They like to jump at opportunities – a product of their risk taking nature. While this is not entirely a bad thing, especially among entrepreneurs, it is not entirely a good thing either. Likewise, introverts make detailed analysis before coming to a conclusion. This can sometimes be regarded as being too reserved and safe, especially in the business context, where some level of risk-taking is expected.

We can see that extroverts and introverts can have complementary traits when it comes the impact on leadership. Neither make for a better leader than the other but each excel in different circumstances. Extrovert leaders need to be supported by introvert leaders and vice-versa. This means that organisations are better off if they ensure a balance of introverts and extroverts in the boardroom. What kinds of introvert/extrovert mix do you have in your organisation?

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