November 2nd, 2012 | 6:00 am

Yes…Extroverts and Introverts Can Lead Brilliantly!

filed under Expert Answers

DevoraZackContributed by Devora Zack

There is not one single way to lead. Don’t get me started. Nothing irritates me more than hearing from so-called experts that, in their boundless benevolence, they are bestowing on us mere mortals the five laws of management or seven rules of success or three indisputable truisms of leadership.

In reality, as you have already recognized, everyone is unique. Given this basic fact of human nature, how could there possibly be one set of rules on how to manage effectively? There can’t and there isn’t.

The singular method towards being a stellar manager is by channeling yourself.

Yet, many of us expend much time and energy telling ourselves what we should do to be a successful manager. The root of this buzz-kill is the false, damaging belief that we inherently lack some secret management juice that enables ‘real’ leaders to charismatically inspire the masses to do their bidding. Do yourself a favor. Notice when you think to yourself that you ‘should’ engage in some behavior to lead effectively. Replace the ‘should’ with a ‘shouldn’t.’ Because when you work too hard to convince yourself you should do something to succeed, it almost always means you shouldn’t. The key to being the best manager you can possibly be working with – rather than fighting against – your natural strengths.

The Truth of Introversion and Extroversion

Breaking news! Introversion and extroversion have nothing whatsoever to do with whether a person is confident, eloquent, energetic, or quick-witted. Introversion and extroversion are not linked to being motivated, smart, successful, or creative. Neither personality style is more qualified for leadership roles and (take note!) nobody needs to be ‘fixed.’

Extroverts are not inherently more qualified to be top-notch managers than introverts. Myth dispelled. What makes a stellar leader? Someone well acquainted with – and accepting of – her natural temperament; a person who knows how to leverage her strengths for success.

So what does differentiate extroverts from introverts? Three simple distinctions. (Networking for People Who Hate Networking, D. Zack, Berrett-Koehler 2010)

Drum roll, please!

Extroverts talk to think; introverts think to talk.

Extroverts energize with others; introverts energize alone.

Extroverts go wide; introverts go deep.

How does this impact management style? Glad you asked. Examples for each include:

1. Extroverted leaders need to verbally process ideas to know what they think, while introverts must think ideas over before speaking. Extroverts are predisposed to brainstorm ideas – a perfect example of ‘talking to think.’ Introverts must process their ideas before sharing. A solution? Integrate into your brainstorming sessions time for participants to write down or think about their responses before having a discussion. You’ll increase the contributions of introverts exponentially.

2. Extroverts recharge through social interactions, so like to interact informally with others throughout the day. They are advocates of ‘management by walking around.’

Introverts gain energy through solo time, so prefer to unwind with a magazine during lunch rather than joining everyone in the lunchroom. As a corollary, extroverts enjoy group interactions, introverts prefer one-on-one. Extroverted leaders do well with team gatherings, introverts will do better getting to know their staff through individual interactions.

3. Extroverts enjoy a wide variety of people, stimuli, and activities, whereas introverts prefer deeper interactions, less interruptions, and more focused interests. This means extroverts break up the day by popping in on others spontaneously. However, introverts go deep into thought when working and interruptions throw them off. So modify your leadership style based on the preferences of those on your team. Also, an open door policy is a recipe for disaster for introverted managers. Prearranged meetings are far more productive for introverts.

In a Nut Shell

The only way to be a successful manager is by understanding, accepting, and capitalizing on your unique style.

Focus on how you excel. Identify ways to capitalize on your leadership forte, rather than forcing yourself into an ill-fitting mold that drains you. Design a management style that enlivens you…and consequently, those around you. Being authentic increases your effectiveness, energy level, and credibility.

While we’re on the general topic, drop any expectation that others will change their basic personality to suit your whims. They won’t. They may learn new skills, expand their reach, deepen their commitment, and increase their productivity – all with your expert guidance. However, fundamental personality nuances are more or less here for the long haul. Honor the natural strengths and temperaments of your team just as much as you do your own. The people most different from you are the best catalysts to develop your leadership acuity. And you will be well positioned to manage the diverse personalities on your team by acknowledging and working with your own natural strengths.

Devora Zack is CEO of Only Connect Consulting, Inc. and author of Managing for People Who Hate Managing (Berrett-Koehler 2012) and Networking for People Who Hate Networking (Berrett-Koehler 2010). Her books have been translated into 12 languages, and she provides keynotes and seminars internationally.

1 comment

  1. TK

    Great article, thank you! I read a lot about management and leadership and thought I would share some additional thoughts, that hopefully add value to the discussion.

    One, there is some disagreement among professionals and researchers about any difference between management and leadership. I would suggest the following if this is something you are interested in:

    Kotter, J. (1990). A force for change: how leadership differs from management. New York, NY: Free Press

    Bennies & Nanus (1985). Leaders: strategies for taking charge. New York, NY: Harper and Row.

    Rost, J. C. (1991). Leadership for the 21st century. New York, NY: Praeger.

    Zaleznik, A. (1977). Managers and leaders: are they different? Harvard Business Review, 55, 67-78.

    While none of these are “recent” publications, they get to the heart of this long-term discussion about management and leadership. Personally, I am of the belief that the two are distinct but overlap. As Kotter (1996) explains, management is about planning and budgeting, organizing and staffing, and controlling and problem solving; while leadership is about establishing direction, aligning people, and motivating and inspiring (p. 26). So while many people in positions of responsibility that include tasks on both of these lists, you can make a case that the two lists of tasks require different skill sets and capabilities.

    In terms of personality traits (of which introversion and extroversion are specific traits), there are a couple important considerations. One, while personality traits are rather stable over time and considered our innate preferences, they are just that: preferences, we are not beholden to them like we are our height or skin color. Two, research has found that personality traits account for about 20-30% of variance in leadership behaviors, leaving a very large 70% attributable to other factors ( and arguably even larger than 70% when you consider personality traits are only preferences not behavioral dictations).

    For a good overview of the many different theories of leadership, their origins, strengths/weaknesses, and support empirically, I would suggest:

    Northouse, P. G. (2010). Leadership: Theory and practice (5th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications. ISBN: 9781412974882

    I hope this adds to the discussion, as it is a topic I am quite passionate about and interested in! Thank you, again, for the article.