A stereotypical view of leadership might suggest that the best leaders need to be extroverts. Why? Because of the considerable amount of networking, collaboration, communication and action they need to bring to the role.
However, all you need to do is to type ‘introverted leaders’ into an internet search engine and you’ll see some very impressive leaders who were/are more introverted in nature.
So what should we make of the capacity of extroverts or introverts to be successful leaders? The label ‘extrovert’ or ‘introvert’ is of course a personality preference and not a reason to judge success in leadership. Emotionally self-aware leaders understand their personality preferences and have learned how to mitigate the risks associated with them as well as to leverage the strengths. It is however worth considering the challenges that these different preferences bring to leaders.
Two of the balances that any good leader needs to have is a great team and great advisors. Those with courageous dispositions and overflowing with integrity and sound judgment. An extroverted leader certainly needs colleagues who will carry more of the reflective and analytical burden. Those who bring gravitas and reasoned judgement to the ear of a leader who is used to making fast, maybe reactive decisions and moving quickly through agendas. An introverted leader needs colleagues who will bring options, canvass opinions and press for action.
A leader who surrounds themselves with ‘Yes’ people, or only seeks affirmation from those who are afraid to raise alternative perspectives for fear of repercussions, is just an autocrat.
A great leader is someone who has learned to lean on the strengths of others. A great extroverted leader knows when to close their mouth and listen. A great introverted leader knows how to move to action with the input of wise counsel.
Advisors and confidants are also imperative to support leaders, whether they be extroverts of introverts. Advising an extroverted leader could possibly be more of a challenge than with an introverted leader. Why? Sometimes extroverts move so quickly from one thing to the next and are often reacting to external stimuli, that they forget to pause and reflect on the need for consideration and change. And yet again, with introverted leaders, wise counsel can sometimes become a point of reflection and analysis beyond the boundaries of reasonableness and action.
Having worked with extroverted and introverted leaders, I have learned to value them both. I probably fire off more with extroverted leaders, being an extrovert myself. But sometimes extroverted leaders wind me up incredibly – I just wish they would plan more, think more, exercise patience and not be so hasty. Aha – more the traits of an introvert. And then with an introverted leader – I wish they would not deliberate so much, spend more time networking and act faster …. I think you follow!
The best leaders should never be judged by whether they are extrovert or introvert. They should be judged by how they have learned to work with their preferences, balance their team, inspire confidence and deliver results. Developing leaders requires an understanding of personality type, and it also requires a candid conversation of how diversity can be leveraged rather than restrict effectiveness.