Introvert Vs. Extrovert Leaders
The task-oriented, reflective individual who could spend hours in her office alone getting work done and the exuberant elbow rubber who’s happiest circulating among peers and employees appear to have little in common. But they both can make great leaders under the right conditions. An important part of leadership development is teaching up-and-comers about themselves—including how they best excel—and then offering training to play up their strengths. Three experts in the field of leadership training and four Training Top 125 companies offer insights on preparing both introvert and extrovert employees for leadership roles.
Both Have the Potential to Be Great
Most leadership experts agree there is no right and wrong way to be a leader. An introvert has just as much of a chance as an extrovert to be a great leader. “The introvert-extrovert scale is about preference, not performance,” says Patric Palm, founder of Favro, an online collaboration tool. “There are many introverts who are great performers on stage for huge audiences. They might even have stage fright. But they can deliver great presentations, music, or whatever they are up on the stage to do. And there are extroverts who love the attention of being on stage, but are not able to deliver a clear message because they are too babbly.”
Palm notes how favorable the working environment has become for introverts. Technology makes it possible to communicate widely without having to constantly circulate through the office or travel the world shaking hands. “Today, knowledge workers often work in geographically distributed teams, and the center point of work is online. We use Slack for communication, Favro for workflows and planning, and Google Drive for content,” he says. “Some people are even digital nomads working from wherever suits them. I even know CEOs who work as digital nomads. This is good news for introverts. They often prefer to have some time to reflect on questions and problems before presenting solutions, and this online environment suits them perfectly.”
Some of the world’s most famous CEOs are introverts, says Glenn Hughes, director of Global Learning at Training Top 10 Hall of Fame company KLA-Tencor. Hughes notes that Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg both meet the description of introverts.
Help Leaders Get to Know Themselves
The first step to making great leaders, regardless of introvert or extrovert preferences, is to make sure they know themselves. Hughes says KLA-Tencor uses the DiSC personality assessment to show leaders who they are and how to optimize their strengths. Not only can understanding their personality help leaders succeed, it can guide the company on how best to train them. “I know, as an extrovert, that I require the opportunity to try and fail in a classroom setting,” says Hughes. “I want to interact with the learning content. I want to debate and challenge learning points. And I want to have fun. Based on those preferences, I don’t do my best learning in an online environment. There’s a saying we have, ‘Extroverts fail, so they can learn; introverts learn, so they don’t fail.”
Key strengths of extroverts include what Hughes calls a “bias for action,” the ability to keep moving and operating without a full plan in place. Weaknesses include a lack of depth of thought, with more talking than listening and a tendency to fall prey to “The Peter Principle,” in which an overabundance of self-confidence leads to a promotion to a higher-level position the extrovert may not be ready for.
Introverts, on the other hand, shine in their bias for reflection, in which they enjoy taking time to think and learn before making decisions. They also find it easy to listen deeply to others, to take in what the other person is saying, and then use that information to make informed decisions. Introvert weaknesses may include difficulty exuding the confidence of a loud voice and making eye contact, and a struggle to build a strong network of business contacts and allies. The discomfort of many introverts with small talk with multiple strangers at one time can make networking and industry events challenging.
Teaching a leader whether they’re an “I” or an “E” isn’t enough, says Ted Grubb, a member of the senior faculty at the Center for Creative Leadership. They have to know how that preference plays out in their day-to-day work, and how they may not be an “I” or an “E” all the time. “Most people have the potential to show ‘either/and/or,’ depending on the circumstances,” says Grubb. “Some people’s preferences even land comfortably toward the middle of the continuum, i.e., the so-called ambiverts. It is helpful to recognize your own default tendencies (i.e., “Where along the continuum am I most likely to show up, over time, across most situations?”), so you can make intentional behavior choices.”
Some Learning executives find that they, themselves, are a combination of I’s and E’s. “I’ve discovered that I’m an introverted extrovert,” says Hanan Harb, a Learning and Development professional at Training Top 125 company DPR Construction. “I love being social and being around people, but I really recharge through solitude and quiet reflection. My level of extroversion also depends on my environment at the moment—when I’m more comfortable, I am more outspoken.”
Performance reviews that let leaders see how everyone they work with is affected by their personality can be helpful. At Training Top 10 Hall of Famer CHG Healthcare, 360-degree reviews shed light on how leader personalities can be leveraged. “As an introvert, I produce well-thought-out projects, products, and ideas. But the reality is my best work is done back at my desk. If the strategy is that we are going to sit around the table together, and produce a solution for a problem we just became aware of, that is not where my value is,” says Learning and Development Manager Zach Sumsion, who notes the importance of self-awareness. “The types of things that showed up on my 360-degree surveys early on as a leader were all about my disposition as an introvert: ‘He doesn’t seem engaged in meetings, he doesn’t project as a leader, he does not seem approachable.’ Those things aren’t on my 360s anymore. Is it because I’m no longer an introvert? No, it’s because the more self-aware we become, the more we are able to behave in ways that mitigate the risks of our dispositions. As soon as we understand the perceptions that can be created simply by behaving in our most natural way, the easier it is to identify strategies, and even petty sacrifices, we can employ to minimize, or eliminate, those perceptions.”
Train to See Beyond Stereotypes
Even with extensive personality assessments, it can be difficult to predict the behavior and abilities of an extroverted and introverted person.
“Over the years, I’ve met leaders who demonstrate various characteristics of an extrovert, but come to realize after spending more time with them that they have more qualities of an introvert,” says Art Dobrucki, director of Performance & Logistics for Training Top 10 Hall of Famer Farmers Insurance.
Rather than label leaders as an introvert or extrovert, Dobrucki says Farmers takes into consideration a wide variety of factors, including overall performance and results. “If we look at results—which include attaining goals, performance, trustworthiness, developing others, and more—those attributes tend to rise to the surface no matter the behavioral qualities that leader demonstrates,” Dobrucki says.
Farmers tends to use personality assessments to help leaders reveal their personal leadership and managerial qualities. Farmers then shows the leader how those qualities can potentially affect others in the workplace, Dobrucki says. “We like to guide leaders through a self-discovery process to help encourage them to solicit feedback from those they manage and work with on a daily basis,” he explains. “As a result, leaders can make changes to help them become more effective leaders.”
Teach Leaders About Others Not Like Themselves
Activities that encourage different personalities to get to know each other can be helpful. Some companies, for instance, use music as a unifying experience. “We bridge the communication gap between introverts and extroverts through experiential music-based teambuilding activities,” explains Andy Sharpe, CEO of SongDivision. “If done well, a teambuilding experience can bring everyone’s energy to the same level, finding a common ground for the two leadership types to effectively work together,” he says. “For instance, a strong teambuilding program presents participants with an assignment, and challenges them to complete a task, to help them dismiss current work stresses and focus on problem solving and communicating together.”
At SongDivision, corporate participants are asked to break into groups, and write and perform a song together. The extroverts are required to think reflectively about lyrics, while the introverts are required to push themselves to perform.
Training that focuses more on how to effectively work together than on who’s an “I” and who’s an “E” is essential. DPR Construction ensures the personality assessments it conducts are coupled with training on how best to collaborate, which is especially important given the company’s emphasis on shared leadership.
“Relationships are of the utmost importance at DPR (no matter the personality type),” says Harb, whose company uses Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, and Switzler’s “Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High” book and modules. “It provides a common language when engaging in difficult conversations and is helpful both internally and externally when working in large teams and on complex technical projects.”
The key, says Harb, is remembering the value of a mix of personalities in the workforce. “We have groups of leaders who are passionate, engaged, and openly and respectfully express/debate various points of view to arrive at the best direction for the company. It is by thoughtful design and this commitment to brutal honesty and transparency that helps build trust with all who have the opportunity to work here.”
For additional information, see “Quiet Leaders—5 Tips for Success” by Susan Cain, co-founder of the Quiet Revolution LLC, at: https://trainingmag.com/ trgmag-article/quiet-leaders%E2%80%94-5-tips-success
- Use online collaboration tools to add interaction for extroverts and provide a safe platform for introverts to engage.
- Help leaders identify their introvert and extrovert tendencies, and areas where they may need extra help.
- Emphasize in leadership development the need for a mix of introvert and extrovert tendencies in leadership—sometimes you can benefit from playing up your introverted side, and other times your extroverted side can be most beneficial.
- Train leaders not to stereotype introverts and extroverts. These two types of people can be capable of acting against type, and may even do so naturally depending on the situation.
- Use teambuilding activities to teach leaders and their work groups about one another, including how best to make their differing personalities gel.
- Offer strategies for having difficult conversations, and remind leaders and their work groups that a mix of personalities in the organization is best.
- Use 360-degree performance reviews to show leaders how they are perceived, for better and worse, by everyone they work with.