Leadership from an Introvert’s Perspective

When people think of a stereotypical leader, they often conjure up the image of a dynamic public speaker, a forceful and dominant personality, and someone who can cultivate relationships with a broad number of people. These are all hallmarks of the extroverted personality type, so it’s often been the case that extroverts rise to leadership positions more readily than introverts.

 

However, some question whether the social dominance and ability to command attention shown by extraverts might make them less effective leaders in certain ways. In particular, extroverts may be less likely to take advice from followers. One study investigated how quickly groups of college students could fold shirts in 10 minutes. Each group had a leader who was cued to be either extroverted or introverted. The introverted leaders took more advice from their proactive followers, and this led the groups with introverted leaders to be more effective. Thus, even though there are cases where introverts are less successful as leaders, in some conditions they are more effective. Others note that introverted leaders can be better than extroverts at one-on-one interactions, empathy, and deliberate decision making.

 

Are there business executives who break the extroverted leader mold? One is Google co-founder Larry Page, well-known for developing a small number of close relationships and being an excellent listener. Colgate-Palmolive chief Ian Cook might feel uncomfortable in front of large groups of people he doesn’t know, but he has learned to partner with more extroverted colleagues for presentations to offset his natural shyness. Wal-Mart CEO Mike Duke is famously low-key and reserved, but he has utilized his natural introvert skills of managing details and engineering solutions to maintain the retail giant’s dominant market position. These examples show that although extroverts might get all the attention, introverts can still make effective leaders.

 

  1. Are you more of an introverted or extraverted leader? What can you do to leverage your personality to be a more effective leader?
  2. Under what conditions do you think extraverts make more effective leaders than introverts? What unique abilities of introverts could make them more effective in some situations?
  3. The case describes some problems introverts might have in leadership situations. What techniques might they employ to help them overcome these?
  4. What types of developmental experiences do you think would be especially valuable for introverted leaders?

 

Source: A. M. Grant, F. Gino, and D. A. Hofman, “The Hidden Advantages of Quiet Bosses,” Harvard Business Review (December, 2010), p. 28; B. O’Keefe and D. Burke, “Meet the CEO of the Biggest Company on Earth,” Fortune (September 27, 2010), pp. 80-94; J. S. Lubin, “Introverted Execs Find Ways to Shine,” Wall Street Journal (April 14, 2011), online.wsj.com.