Qualities of introverted leaders

Usually we think of leaders as having larger-than-life extroverted personalities. However, some studies conducted by Harvard Business Review have shown that sometimes extroverted leaders actually can be a hindrance to the development and contribution of outgoing, proactive employees.

In the Harvard Business Review’s study of 130 pizza delivery restaurants, bosses were asked to rate themselves as to how extroverted or introverted they were. Employees, on the other hand, were asked to rate themselves and one another in terms of how proactive they were in their professional life. The results showed that when extroverted leaders were paired with employees who were not particularly proactive, the leaders were able to achieve higher than average profits. However, in franchises with proactive employees, extroverted leaders netted 14% lower profits than introverted leaders.

In another study, researchers found a group of 163 college students and grouped them into teams to see how many T-shirts each team could fold in 10 minutes. The assigned leaders were given reading material beforehand to manipulate their leadership behavior. The assigned followers in each group were similarly given reading materials to predispose them toward being either proactive or not. Again, the groups with proactive followers performed best with introverted leaders, while the groups with followers who were not proactive performed best with extroverted leaders. In its findings, the Harvard Business Review determined, “The extroverted leaders appeared threatened by and unreceptive to proactive employees. The introverted leaders listened carefully and made employees feel valued, motivating them to work hard.”

Although most CEOs view extroversion as an important part of leadership, there are a number of famous leaders throughout history who are celebrated examples of the “strong and silent” type. Eleanor Roosevelt is a shining example of an introverted renowned for her leadership skills. One of her telling personal quotes is, “Friendship with oneself is all important, because without it one cannot be friends with anyone else in the world.” Famous civil rights leader and activist Rosa Parks was an introvert, too.

But what about famous male extroverts? Don’t worry, there’s plenty of those, too. Abraham Lincoln was an introvert. And of course it comes as no surprise that activist Mahatma Gandhi was an introvert. Some contemporary leaders are introverts, too – like Bill Gates. Another wildly successful billionaire, Warren Buffet is also an introvert.

So what’s the point of this journey through the history of famous personalities and psychology studies? The point is, don’t worry if you’re the quiet type – it doesn’t mean that you’re not boss material.

Check out my related book:

Cool Boss: The Art of Leadership in the 21st Century

Can Akdeniz

Can Akdeniz is the author of seven books and founder of Business Hacker, a popular business blog. His books such as Go Nuts, Cool Boss, Happy Company and MBA 2.0 have changed how people think about business, productivity and work.