There has been much debate of late in academic and business management circles about the best personality type for leadership: extroversion or introversion.
Traditionally, extroverts have been considered the most successful leaders.
However, current thinking is that introverts can be just as competent as extroverts in leadership roles. In fact, some of the world’s top business leaders are introverts – think Bill Gates, Larry Page, Steve Wozniak, Katharine Graham and even Warren Buffett.
We should get away from the stereotype that all introverts are shy people who prefer to be alone and struggle to communicate with others. Not all introverts are shy, just as not all extroverts are outgoing and talkative. Psychologists believe we all fall somewhere on a continuum, with personality types called ‘ambiverts’ in the middle – people who relish solitude but also enjoy social interaction.
What does this mean for leadership? In my opinion, whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert is not a metric for leadership success or failure. What matters is communication style. To be a competent leader, you need to be able to communicate effectively.
And in this regard, there are lessons both introverts and extroverts can learn from each other:
• Introverts tend to have excellent listening skills, but may find it hard to compete in group situations when it comes to getting their ideas across. They may need to work on their communication skills and become situational extroverts in order to share their value effectively.
• Extroverts often need to slow down, and consider the clarity of their communication before speaking. They could learn from introverts by honing their listening skills, and giving everyone on a team the chance to express their ideas.
For both introverts and extroverts, the value of executive coaching should not be underestimated. It can assist leaders to improve their performance through greater self-awareness and developing personal insight into their personality type and how it can impact leadership. Coaching is a great opportunity for executives to become more self-aware of their own strengths and weaknesses, and learn how they can remove barriers to better performance.
It is usually an organisation’s leaders who select its top executives, and if they are extroverts, they may be more comfortable choosing personality types they are familiar with – other extroverts. But having both introverts and extroverts on an executive team can strengthen its diversity. There is no right or wrong when it comes to personality types – it’s about selecting team members with strengths that complement each other in such a way that that the vision and the mission of the organisation is implemented to ensure sustainable success.
Leon Ayo is the managing director at Odgers Berndtson.