This was a question posed by a client earlier this week, when considering an external candidate for a senior role – it prompted a debate on the merits of both extroverted and introverted leaders.
Let me briefly set the scene…
The candidate, we’ll call her Jane, openly describes herself as an introvert; she says she does her best thinking on her own, she prefers to interact 1:1 and prefers a quiet space to work.
The role has responsibility for a service function employing a virtual team in excess of 100 people, although the direct team is made up of 5.
The CEO, we’ll call him Peter, is a charismatic extrovert – he seamlessly inspires others to follow him and to buy into his vision. He has successfully turned round a previously floundering organisation into a thriving business.
As the discussion unfolded, it appeared to reinforce the view that society has a bias towards extroverted leaders, where ‘men of action’ are generally considered better leaders than ‘men of contemplation’. Yet research shows a different perspective. Many introverted business leaders, e.g. Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, are successful. Introverted leaders often deliver better outcomes – they are widely accepted as better listeners and better at staying focused. They are also more likely to genuinely empower others to get things done. Introverted leaders have been shown to be more prudent, taking a circumspect approach to risk, something increasingly valued in today’s business world. There are clearly plenty of good reasons to appoint an introverted leader.
What was interesting about Jane was how comfortable she was being an introvert – she demonstrated great self-awareness and understood how to get the best out of herself. She also understood the limitations of her preferences and gave great examples of how she stepped out of her comfort zone to successfully work with teams and inspire others. She had found a way to authentically lead; she didn’t apologise for being an introvert, she embraced it and used it to her advantage.
In my mind, the key question was not whether she was too introverted to be an effective leader; it was whether the critical relationship between Peter and Jane could work. To me, the close collaboration of two different leadership approaches, the Yin and the Yang, potentially presented a huge opportunity for the business. But to work successfully, it would need a mutual respect and the space for both Peter and Jane to operate authentically.
The outcome…Jane was hired and starts the role in the New Year.
To find out more about the power of introverts we would recommend reading Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain or watch her TED talk.