Introversion, Extraversion and Our Ideas About Leadership

There is a great tension in leadership about what makes a leader most effective. Often the most vocal person gets labeled as leadership material. And yet, other skills are being demanded of leaders in large, medium and small organizations.

But we need definitions first

Here is a typical but not exhaustive overview of each style.


  • Tends to think a lot; processing in their heads and hearts privately.
  • Finds small talk difficult as they would rather have a deep and meaningful conversation with someone
  • Finds being alone a great source of energy; solitude is bliss
  • Reserved
  • Quiet
  • May be adept at socializing and enjoy being with people but returns home feeling tired and drained


  • Tends to think out loud
  • Often described as outgoing and gregarious
  • Gains energy from being with people;
  • ¬†Finds being alone a source of stress
  • Tends to be more interested in what is going on around them
  • Takes action, often without reflecting on their choices first

All of us have introverted and extraverted aspects to our personalities. Carl Jung is to have said that a pure introvert or extravert would be insane. However, we have preferred tendencies in our personalities. If you are curious about where you might fall on the introvert-extrovert spectrum, try this survey

Has the emphasis on the vocal, charismatic and dominant leader run its course?

Maybe but don’t hold your breath. There have been recent discussion about how leaders should be better at listening, empathy, mentoring and using a more collaborative approach with their teams. In the post from Harvard Business Review, “Leadership Is A Conversation“, Boris Groysberg and Michael Slind state that leadership is conversational. This would seem to fit a more introverted person to excel as a leader. And yet, surveys tell us that senior level managers favor the extraverted candidate over the introverted one. So this construct perpetuates that a leader must be super-confident, aggressive, loud and action-oriented to be truly a leader.

On the ground, introverts are not promoted but research says…

In a 2010 Wharton School study authored by Adam Grant and his team, he noted that vocal, dominant action-taker may inadvertently inhibit his/her team by expressing enthusiasm or shutting down independent (and possibly innovative) initiatives by employees due to feeling threatened. Introverts, on the other hand, may produce better results by listening through to the end of an idea, reflecting on possible options and outcomes and creating space for employees to be proactive in their jobs.Grant also points out in is research that introverts are persistent and careful risk takers.

Even if the numbers don’t lie, we have cherished ideas about leadership

Maybe it does boil down to who talks a good game and who’s got good game. The extraverted leader may be visible and seen as getting things done. On the other hand, the introverted leader may be grooming people to be more confident, capable and engaged in their work. It may be less flashy but positive results are produced. Then there is the fly in the ointment…what if good leadership isn’t about whether someone is an introvert or extrovert?

Please join us on Twitter for this discussion on #KaizenBiz, Friday, June 22, 2012 at 5pm BST/12pm ET/9am PT. We’ll use these questions:

What ideas of leadership are currently encouraged?

How would you describe leadership in the current day-to-day business environment?

Where do you believe you fall on the extraversion-introversion spectrum?

As you think of managers you’ve worked for, describe how their traits seemed to support their success?

What underlying skills must any leader have regardless of where they land on the extraversion-introversion spectrum?

What would happen if we limited group work and allowed solitude?