Thursday, May 01, 2008

The Working Life: Introvert vs. Extravert Leaders

The Working Life: Introvert vs. Extravert Leaders

Are you an innie or an outie? I’m not talking bellybuttons; I’m talking about your leadership style. Leadership, like personalities, comes in different shapes and sizes. There are extraverts and introverts. Some leaders are the “strong and silent” type while others are larger than life characters full of charisma. There are challenges inherent in both, but they can be overcome with a little education.


Introversion or extraversion is not about how shy or social you are. It is about how individuals derive their energy.

An introvert’s essential stimulation, their source of energy, comes from within, from their inner world of thoughts, ideas and reflections. The introvert directs and receives energy from his inner world. They like to focus on their own inner world of ideas and experiences. They direct energy/attention inward and receive energy from reflecting on thoughts, memories and feelings.

The extravert, on the other hand, gets their essential stimulation from the outer world, the world of people and things. The extravert directs and receives energy from the outside world. They focus on the outer world. They direct their energy and attention outward and receive energy from interacting with people and from taking action.

This is not about sociability or shyness; it’s about where your energy comes from. I know lots of shy extraverts and lots of gregarious introverts. Introverts can certainly be very social and engaging, but the difference is that it is extremely exhausting for introverts to engage. It drains their energy to focus externally.

How do you know what you are?

It’s important to understand two things. First, introversion or extraversion is a personality trait, or more precisely, a personality preference that rests within every person. A preference is a manner of interacting with the world that feels the most comfortable naturally and frequently.
Second, everybody has both qualities in their personality. But, according to psychologists and personality researchers, we tend to lean consistently one way or the other.

The most widely understood and researched metric on introversion/extraversion is the Meyers Briggs Type Indicator, also known as the MBTI. It is an excellent test to take to determine your personality type. You can simply Google MBTI or the words introversion and you will be directed to lots of information and sources for learning more about your personality preference.

A quick place to start, however, is to simply assess the way you feel about interactions based on the energy explanations above. Are you energized by interactions or enervated by them?

How introverts and extraverts differ in the workplace

Introverts and extraverts can have significantly different characteristics in the workplace. It is all about where you prefer to focus your attention and get your energy. In general:

  • Are attuned to their external environment
  • Prefer to communicate by talking
  • Prefer action over reflection—can act and respond quickly
  • Work out ideas by talking them through: They speak to think
  • Learn best through doing or discussing
  • Share thoughts freely
  • Are sociable and expressive
  • Extend self into the environment
  • Enjoy working in groups
  • Are drawn to inner world
  • Prefer written communication
  • Prefer reflection over action—may need time to “process” before action
  • Work out ideas by reflecting and thinking: They think to speak
  • Learn best by reflection
  • Guard thoughts until they are (almost) perfect
  • Private and contained
  • Defend against external demands
  • Enjoy working alone or with only a few people
Extraverts are very good at remaining aware of the external environment, maintaining their networks, and taking quick action. Introverts are really good at paying attention to the infrastructure, conceptualizing problems, and looking deeply into issues. Both possess excellent, though different natural skill sets.

The leadership difference

The Introversion/Extraversion personality preference is important to leadership because it directly pertains to how people relate to other people, especially in terms of communication and engagement with others.

In every industry or sector, three of the most important skills leaders need are the ability to inspire, motivate and enable others to act. To do this requires a communication and personal engagement style that promotes a sense of trust and confidence with one’s employees and co-workers.

Because introverts are more naturally inclined to focus their energies within they sometimes forget the importance of connecting and communicating with others consistently and openly. In a sense, the introverted leader often has to work a little harder on the people side of leadership.

Now, successful leaders come in many shapes and sizes. Great leadership requires the development of many, many skills. So, while I don’t think that either type is more innately skilled at organizational leadership, there is some data to suggest that introverted leaders may have a few more challenges to overcome in the American workplace culture. So, in some ways extraverts have a bit of an advantage. But it is hard to tell whether this is about skill or the perception/projection American organizations place on their leaders.

For example, a recent study found that: 60 percent of the population are extraverts; 40 percent are introverts; 71 percent of executives identified themselves as extraverts; and 29 percent of executives identified themselves as introverts.

So it is definitely fair to say that the American business environment selects extraverts as leaders more often than introverts, and that generally speaking the workplace has more extraverts in it than introverts. It is also true that the qualities of extraverts are the ones most people commonly associate with leadership.

Challenges for introverted leaders

Introverts possess many skills that are associated with great leadership. Introverts are associated with deep reflection and a desire to think through decisions. Introverts are naturally disinclined to be in the middle of the fray, if you will, so they can provide an outside perspective on what is happening. They are very good at analyzing and assessing. Because they are listening more than talking, introverts can also gain deeper understandings of situations.
By the same token, introverts face greater challenges than extraverts. These include isolation; projections or aloofness, snobbery or being disinterested; lack of communication; and lack of engagement.

Leadership is largely about motivating and inspiring others. Great leadership is about rising above the transactional into the transformational. In order to do this, one must be adept at engaging and inspiring others. And the only way to do this is to focus on the outer world. This is not impossible for introverts; it is just more difficult for them. It requires a bigger stretch and a significant energy commitment.

Here are some specific strategies introverted leaders can utilize to become better leaders:
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate. Learn to think out aloud. Include others in brainstorming.
  • Use listening skills to create trust and build rapport. One of the greatest “projections” people make about introverts is that they are great listeners. So use this to your advantage.
  • Don’t forget what to reflect back what you’ve heard. People want to know that they have been heard.
  • Involve others and articulate your thinking. Share information freely. Introverts have a habit of delivering full-blown solutions or edicts without articulating the thought process or motivation behind them, so learn to articulate your thinking and involve others.
  • Be accessible. Engage others substantially. Network!
  • Followers need to see you. They need to trust and understand you. They need to think you have their best interests at heart. So get out there.
  • Take care of your solitude. Carve out specific times of solitude for recharging yourself.
Challenges for the extravert
Extraverts don’t have it made, though. There are lots of challenges for them, too. Their outward energy can intimidate other people who may not feel they are being heard. Extraverted executives may overwhelm and intimidate people, push ideas prematurely, and unintentionally reveal confidences. Then, when ideas are leaked or taken as decisions rather than mere brainstorming possibilities, the executive feels betrayed. Extraverts have to be careful. They like to think out loud, which can lead to problems.

Here are some ways extroverts can be better leaders:
  • Ask yourself, why am I talking?
  • Provide space for other people to contribute.
  • Ask more questions, and really listen. Resist the urge to immediately start providing your opinion.
  • Tell introverts ahead of time what you’d like to discuss.
  • Be careful what you say. Remember, as leader, your talking out loud may confuse people. What you say carries a lot of weight. Too much talking out loud may make you appear indecisive. If you are going to “extrovert” or brainstorm ideas, make sure people know that is what you are doing.
  • Be careful of oversharing. Not everything needs to be discussed out loud.

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