With their outgoing personalities and greater willingness to take on leadership roles, it is easy to assume that extroverts make better leaders than introverts.
Leadership is not just about a willingness to be in the spotlight, however. As we saw with the list of the richest people in the world, many of these leaders are introverts who supplemented the natural strengths with the ability to lead and communicate strongly.
A 10-year study in the US called the CEO Genome Project looked at CEO performance versus the personality traits of the leaders.
The analysis showed that while boards tend to prefer charismatic extroverts, introverts are slightly more likely to surpass the expectations of their boards and investors.
“The biggest aha, overall, is that some of the things that make CEOs attractive to the board have no bearing on their performance,” said Elena Lytkina Botelho, a partner at ghSmart and a co-founder of the project.
“Like most human beings, they get seduced by charismatic, polished presenters. They simply do better in interviews.”
A study by the National Bureau of Economic Research came up with data showing that CEOs who scored highly in extroversion ran companies with a 2% lower return on assets than the average. Introverted CEOs ran companies that outperformed their peers.
Popular Wharton management professor Adam Grant and colleagues from Harvard and the University of North Carolina wanted to challenge the assumption that extroverts made the best leaders. What they found was that introvert and extrovert leaders do better or worse depending on the personalities they lead.
The study, Reversing the Extraverted Leadership Advantage: The Role of Employee Proactivity, found that extroverted leaders may hamper performance because they see proactive behaviour from subordinates as a threat to their leadership. Introvert leaders, on the other hand, worked well with these types of employees as they were more likely to listen to suggestions and to encourage employees to step up and be proactive.
Grant and his colleagues found that in the case of a US pizza chain, extroverted leaders drove higher profits when leading non-proactive employees and introverts did likewise with proactive employees.
This is an interesting case study to argue that neither introverts or extroverts are inherently better leaders.
Matching the strengths and preferences of the leader to their team can be the key to successful leadership for introverts and extroverts.
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