Introvert or Extrovert: Who makes a better leader?

| by Leslie Starsoneck

I recently asked my husband to confirm whether I am an introvert.  In an artful dodge characteristic of a long marriage, he replied “you’re on the spectrum.”  His rationale:  I like people a lot but only certain people and not always in large groups.  One of the conclusions from my DISC assessment (a personal assessment tool used for employee development) offers this: “Don’t force Leslie to make decisions quickly.”  I like to think that doesn’t mean I’m indecisive, it just means I want the time and space to reflect, gather my evidence and then be as definitive as the next guy.

The author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that can’t stop talking, says everyone is on the spectrum.  She distinguishes introverts from shy, overly anxious people, and paints them – an introvert herself – as more careful, reflective people.  She isn’t so generous when it comes to extroverts.  Extroverts, she says, “prefer action to contemplation, risk-taking to heed-taking, certainty to doubt…(and) quick decision, at the risk of being wrong.”

In work and classroom settings, extroverts get more attention and therefore their ideas get more attention.  Consequently their ideas are apt to get implemented with greater frequency.  As the author points out, it doesn’t mean these are the best ideas, just that extroverts may talk over and squash the better ideas from quieter people.

How does being an introvert square with leadership? 

In the beginning of the book, there is a list of quotes from Mahatma Gandhi, some about leadership, including: “Quiet leadership is not an oxymoron.”  But if a leader isn’t heard, are they a good leader?   I say no, but not being heard is different from always being the dominant voice in the room. 

I’ve always thought good leaders possess a generosity of spirit that allows them to share leadership without abdicating their own responsibilities.  They don’t disappear into the background, but know when to stop talking, listen, and let others lead. They also don’t shrink from conflict when called to make a decision. They do it easily and decisively.  A good leader will also understand how to promote and manage conversations that allow the best ideas to emerge from introverts and extroverts alike.  They make sure that the ideas with the loudest promotion don’t get undue attention and undeserved support.  They also recognize when shyness or aggression are obstacles to performance and not simply personality traits of an introvert or extrovert.

One of my best bosses yielded his incredible power and influence quietly. He also had the habit, when he was getting deeper and deeper into a conversation about which he was passionate – juvenile offenders in his case – of talking more slowly, loudly, and with a pronounced Louisiana accent.  He was most comfortable one on one, but spoke to national audiences with the same persuasion.  He was an example of an introvert without a hint of shyness or social anxiety.

Think about the best leaders you’ve known.  Extroverts or Introverts?  Where are they on the spectrum?

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