Sunday, December 4, 2011

Leadership: Introvert or Extrovert

The Leadership trait of extroversion or introversion is a topic that comes up often. In his book "Execution" (co-authored by Ram Charan), Larry Bossidy states the he would hesitate to hire a leader who was quiet and reserved. On the other hand, Lisa Petrilli's new book "The Introvert's Guide to Success in Business and Leadership" argues that introversion is a leadership strength that should be cultivated.

To be clear, the Myers-Briggs definition of Introvert-Extrovert is summarized as follows: Extroverts get energy from activities and are excited by being around other people. Introverts get energy internally and often prefer to do things alone or with a few close friends.

In his lecture series on Transformational Leadership, Professor Michael Roberto references a number of studies that indicate that there are NO universal or common traits correlated to successful leadership. Instead, successful leaders engage in similar activities, even though their core makeups are often quite different.

I agree with Professor Roberto that regardless of internal makeup, there are activities that good leaders practice. Last night at a social gathering, I was asked a good question: "As leader, do you say hello to everyone in your office each morning?" The young lady who asked me this question stated that a simple "hello" from her boss each morning made a big difference to office morale.

Any leader, regardless of internal makeup, can practice being genuinely friendly and up-beat with their teams. Not only do the leader's actions or inactions affect the mood of the team. The leader's tone of voice, facial expressions, body language also have a direct impact on the organization.

Many of us do not engage in activities that do not come naturally to us, and I believe that this is a mistake. As I have argued before, you are what you practice. Behaviors that are practiced regularly over time become habits and second nature. I do not know if an introvert can be rewired into an extrovert through practice (or if he/she would even want to.) I do know that there are many leadership activities that come more natural to extroverts. Management by walking around will energize an extrovert and will often be draining for an introvert. Either way, connecting with others is an essential leadership tool, and genuine face-to-face personal engagement is a great way to connect with others.


  1. Glad you liked the Transformational Leadership Course!

  2. Hi Michael. Yes, the Transformational Leadership Course is excellent. Keep up the good work! Thank you for the comment.

  3. I agree with you, Christopher, that certain practices are important no matter what one's natural disposition is. I will never not be an introvert, but I've sought to add outgoing layers to my interactions with people simply because - well, I need to! It does become second nature in a sense, but it doesn't change the fundamental underlying personality type.

  4. Hi Steve. Yes, we exchanged thoughts during #leadershipchat on this exact subject. I completely understand your perspective and you may never be energized by cocktail parties.

    As a caveat, I choose to believe that one can master anything that one desires through practice. The question is whether practice and mastery can actually change the thought patterns and intrinsic makeup of an introvert. Can an introvert learn to be energized by activity and interaction?

    Thanks for the comment and discussion!

  5. Christopher,

    Thank you so much for sharing word of my new eBook with your readers; I sincerely appreciate it! In regard to your premise, I think it goes back to what I refer to in my eBook as "playing along the scale." Introverted leaders must get out of their comfort zones at various points in their day-to-day activities to motivate large groups and network with their peer groups, and they must learn to be great at these things. At the same time, introvert/extrovert is all about *preferences.* Someone who is truly an introvert will prefer to work with others onoe-on-one or in small groups...and that preference should be honored whenever possible in order to nurture the greatest degree of personal fulfillment. All the best!

  6. Hi Lisa. I am happy to share your eBook. Its content is excellent and very uplifting. You provide practical advice that I believe everyone can benefit from. I hope to share your thoughts with others.

    Thank you for the comment!