I am writing this post as I really feel there is a wrong debate about extroverts versus introverts and their supposed capacity to lead effectively. If you Google the words “extrovert” or “introvert” you get two times more results for “introvert” than for “extrovert”. There is also an overwhelming number of articles supporting the fact that extroverts are bad leaders and introverts their victims.
The introversion or extroversion personality trait, first described by Carl Jung, is used in many psychometric tests such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) to describe how individuals respond to various situations. Those tests are supposed to help people understand how they process social information (cognition) and what type of emotions, motivations and behaviors they have under typical social interactions such as work.
Basically, an extrovert is a person who is energized by being around other people and an introvert is energized by being alone.
Are introverts better leaders than extroverts ?
You can find many articles and books with negative bias toward “extroverts“, especially in the U.S., such as “Leadership Tip: Hire the Quiet Neurotic, Not the Impressive Extrovert”, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. or The Introvert Advantage: How to Thrive in an Extrovert World
Saying that introverts are better than extroverts in leadership seems to me a bit too simplistic and worst, this assumption is not backed by serious studies. in addition, introversion is not necessarily linked to shyness or extroversion does not makes you the center of the party.
According to MBTI, I am an extrovert but although I do get energy and ideas by talking with people, I also like spending time alone without being bored. I am also not comfortable in big parties where I know nobody, I prefer one on one interactions.
Daniel H. Pink, author of A WHOLE NEW MIND, describes in a recent article the results of a study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Management. In the study researchers collected data from sales representatives starting by giving them an often-used personality assessment that measures introversion and extroversion on a 1-to-7 scale, with 1 being most introverted and 7 being most extroverted. Then they tracked their performance over the next three months.
The introverts fared worst; they earned average revenue of $120 per hour. The extroverts performed slightly better, pulling in $125 per hour.
So, according to Daniel Pink, the best sales people are neither strongly introverted nor strongly extroverted, they are “ambiverts”.
Ambiverts tend to know when to push and when to hold back, when to speak up and when to shut up.
I am Extrovert but with a low % and I test positive as an Ambivert in Daniel Pinks’ test : http://www.danpink.com/assessment
I also think that best leaders are the ones who have high listening skills and emotional intelligence regardless of being extroverts or introverts.
Personality traits in multicultural teams
American culture is often described as being dominated by extroverts. It is true that compared to other cultures, such as French, Russian or Japanese, American children are taught at very young age to speak in public, develop self-confidence and believe they can do anything if they adopt a positive and outgoing attitude.
However, it is not clear if culture has a strong influence on personality traits in adults as all cultures seemed to have extroverts and introverts. Some studies have shown that personality traits have a single normal distribution replicated in each human society, while other researches tend to prove that culture influences socialization patterns, which in turn shapes some of the variance of personality. I believe it is very difficult to draw a clear line between innate and acquired personality traits.
Deloitte Australia had the opportunity to evaluate impact on culture and individual personalities in a “new” team working on a 3 month project in Australia. The project team consisted of 7 members from Spain (the team leader), Australia, Japan, the United States and Germany (the team members), as well as the client who was from Australia. Intriguingly, it appears that the expectation of
“cultural differences caused team members to become more conscious of their own behaviors and to become more flexible and adaptive. Moreover, cultural diversity provided a unique point of connectivity and enjoyment”
Extrovert leaders are not worse than introvert ones because introversion and extroversion have nothing to do with today’s leadership. Data also show no clear evidence that extroverts are better sale people than introverts.
Personality tests should be used with caution and more as a discussion base to help individuals discover their own behavior and communication style rather than stereotyping and stigmatizing people especially in highly diverse environments.
In multicultural teams, it is not clear if cultural differences are related to the country of origin or to the individual personality, or both, but well managed, cultural diversity can lead to better performance.