This is a re-post of an article that can be found in Psychology Today.
Why we need quiet leaders
Is it time for the traditional extraverted leadership style to make room for quiet leadership-the introverted leader?
Popular views and decades of academic research on leadership tells us that extraverts are the best leaders-those who confidently and aggressively speak out, give orders, make bold plans and are the center of attention. People who are generally the most dominant, outgoing people. Names that come to mind are Oracle’s Larry Ellison or Virgin Group’s Richard Branson.
These extraverted leaders are favored in recruiting and promotion decisions, and are often perceived by supervisors and subordinates alike to be the most effective leaders. Yet this view may not be accurate, according to recent research. The workplace may now be more conducive to an introverted leadership style.
According to recent research by Francesca Gino of Harvard University and David Hoffman of the University of North Carolina, published in the Academy of Management Journal, there is a significant correlation between the kinds of leadership style needed and the personalities and behavior of employees.
The authors argue that extraverted leadership commands the center of attention: being assertive, bold, talkative and dominant, providing and clear authority, structure and direction. However, pairing extraverted leaders with employees who take initiative, are more independent and speak out can lead to conflict, while pairing the same type of employees with an introverted leader, can be more successful. The researchers found in their study that when employees are more proactive, introverted managers lead them to higher profits, whereas where employees are not proactive, extraverted managers are more successful. They concluded that introverted and extraverted leadership styles can be equally effective, but with different kinds of employees.
Despite the research evidence, the popular view persists that extraverts are better leaders because of the “halo effect”-the stereotype of the charismatic leader in Western culture, especially prevalent in business. The researchers reported that whereas just 50% of the general population is extroverted, 96% of mangers and executives display extraverted personalities. And the higher you go in a corporate hierarchy, the more likely you are to find highly extraverted individuals.
Frances B. Kahnweiler, author of The Introverted Leader: Building on Your Quiet Strength, describes introverts as not being the same as shy people, which are often fearful, anxious and self-centered. Rather, introversion is a hardwired orientation, Kahnweiler says, in which introverts process information internally, keep matters private, and avoid showing emotion and exhibit calm natures. She describes 5 key characteristics of introverted leaders:
- They think first and talk later. They consider what others have to say, then reflect and then respond;
- They focus on depth not superficiality. They like to dig deeply into issues and ideas before considering new ones; like meaningful rather than superficial conversations.
- They exude calm. In times of crisis in particular, they project reassuring, unflappable confidence.
- They prefer writing to talking. They are more comfortable with the written word, which helps them formulate the spoken word.
- They embrace solitude. They are energized by spending time alone, and often suffer from people exhaustion. They need a retreat, from which they emerge with renewed energy and clarity.
What should we conclude from these recent studies?
First, our society and particularly the business world has been damaged by excessively charismatic and ego-driven leaders, so we need to take a more cautious, balanced view of the appeal of extraverted leaders.
Second, we must recognize that, increasingly, the workplace is populated by intelligent, knowledge workers, in workplace structures populated by self-managing teams and independent workers, particularly those of Generation Y. Many of these latter workers don’t see themselves as passive employees waiting for orders nor do they want to bes controlled by an extraverted leader. They feel more comfortable with and respond better to an introverted leadership style.