top of page

Introvert or extrovert - who makes the better leader?

Boris Johnson’s promotion to Prime Minister of the UK has got me thinking. He is the epitome of an extrovert. Extroverts are articulate, get noticed, and they are the life and soul of the party. Donald Trump is an extrovert. Bill Clinton is an extrovert. In fact, it is estimated that between half and three quarters of the population is extroverted. And the opposite of being extroverted is introverted. It is funny how we are supposed to be one or the other. I would have thought there was considerable middle ground, but maybe that would complicate things.

A USA Today poll showed 65% of business executives believe that introversion is a barrier to promotion within a corporate environment. Deniz Ones & Stephan Dilchert reported on a study of 4000 US managers in a paper entitled "How Special Are Executives?" in Industrial And Organisational Psychology (2009). It showed that 60% of top level executives exhibited high levels of extraversion.

Introverts are perceived as shy, inarticulate and do not command authority. Extroverts are known for great public speaking and networking skills which they can use to motivate teams. Extroverts seem to make natural leaders. Or do they?

Susan Cain in her book Quiet: The Power Of Introverts In A World That Can't Stop Talking, suggests that there is no correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas. Jim Collins, in what is probably the preeminent study of high performing companies in the late 20th century, found that the exceptionally great companies were all led by chief executives described as “reserved” and “understated”. Peter Drucker, another management guru, believed that some of the best leaders lack magnetism. He observed “The one and only personality trait the effective ones (leaders) did have in common was something they did not have: they had little or no "charisma" and little use either for the term or what it signifies”.

There is some evidence that extroverted managers, with their bigger mouths and bigger personalities, have higher pay than their introverted colleagues, but they fall behind in corporate performance. Returning to Jim Collins, in his book “How The Mighty Fall And Why Some Companies Never Give In”, talks about how the delusional self-belief of extroverts can take them over a cliff.

Being an extrovert gets someone noticed and raises their chances of being appointed a leader. However, it can be the cause of their nemesis. It is hard to see how Barack Obama, an introverted president, would be mired in a Monica Lewinsky scandal.

Extroverts have to live with the promises and promotions that bring them to power. Their bold words need to be converted into tangible results. Their continuous optimism may ultimately be delusional. Meanwhile, the diligent introvert listens carefully to advice, gives limelight to staff, and being thoughtful, takes the long view. On balance it appears that the introverts have a greater likelihood of building corporate profits and being the best leaders.

bottom of page