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12/13 2012

Introverts vs. Extroverts — Who Makes the Better Leader?

Do extroverts always make the most effective leaders?   No so fast, says Wharton management professor Adam Grant.

Grant — along with Harvard’s Francesca Gino and David Hoffman of UNC —  recently published an Academy of Management Journal article titled “Reversing the Extroverted Leadership Advantage:  The Role of Employee Proactivity”.    In this article, the authors found that the demands of the situation — combined with the level of extroversion of the team that the leader was supervising — determined whether having an introverted or extroverted leader resulted in the best performance outcome.

In sum, the authors found that when a group of employees was “proactive” — meaning that they were outspoken, actively engaged with co-workers and customers, and readily shared new ideas — tended to perform worse when paired with a leader who was extrovered, as this resulted in friction and lessened performance.   Conversely, employee groups that were less proactive — meaning that they were more reserved and did not network well — benefited from being paired with a leader that was more extroverted, and therefore was better equipped to bring out new ideas from the team, help members build relationships across boundaries, help instill more of a feeling of “team spirit” within the group, etc.

While the actual success of a team may be dependent upon the “match” between a leader’s introversion/extroversion and the characteristics of the group being supervised — it is also true that extroverts tend to be the ones who are recognized as having “leadership potential’, since they are most likely to be outspoken, convey a clear agenda, and are more likely to “take charge” of situations.  They are also more likely to be better networkers, and build sociable relationships with key decision-makers who can bolster their career.   Organizations with effective leadership development and talent identification strategies will learn to look beyond the differences in these surface characteristics, and will conduct a more in-depth analysis of each individual’s strengths and development needs as a leader.

So — much as with the Situational Leadership research of decades ago — effective leaders will learn to adapt their leadership style to the demands of the situation.   Introverts will need to be more assertive — and more outgoing and more dynamic — when leading teams who are less experienced, who show less initiative, and that demonstrate lower levels of creativity.  Extroverted leaders will need to learn to be more introspective – and be better listeners and facilitators — when leading teams that are more “proactive” — i.e., that are more outgoing, who freely share ideas, and who enjoy taking on new challenges.

As we know, both introverts and extroverts can be effective leaders.   However, the most effective leaders will consider the demands of the situations they find themselves in — and will modify their styles as appropriate.   So, while it may be true that introverted leaders may naturally find more success when leading extroverted teams — and while extroverted leaders may bring out the best in introverted teams — leaders with either style can be more effective by adopting some of the behaviors of their opposite style, as needed.




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