The task-oriented, reflective individual who could spend hours in her office alone getting work done and the exuberant elbow rubber who’s happiest circulating among peers and employees appear to have little in common. But they both can make great leaders under the right conditions. An important part of leadership development is teaching up-and-comers about themselves—including how they best excel—and then offering training to play up their strengths.

Both Have the Potential to Be Great

Most leadership experts agree there is no right and wrong way to be a leader. An introvert has just as much of a chance as an extrovert to be a great leader. “The introvert-extrovert scale is about preference, not performance,” says Patric Palm, founder of Favro, an online collaboration tool. “There are many introverts who are great performers on stage for huge audiences. They might even have stage fright. But they can deliver great presentations, music, or whatever they are up on the stage to do. And there are extroverts who love the attention of being on stage, but are not able to deliver a clear message because they are too babbly.”

Palm notes how favorable the working environment has become for introverts. Technology makes it possible to communicate widely without having to constantly circulate through the office or travel the world shaking hands. “Today, knowledge workers often work in geographically distributed teams, and the center point of work is online. We use Slack for communication, Favro for workflows and planning, and Google Drive for content,” he says. “Some people are even digital nomads working from wherever suits them. I even know CEOs who work as digital nomads. This is good news for introverts. They often prefer to have some time to reflect on questions and problems before presenting solutions, and this online environment suits them perfectly.”

Some of the world’s most famous CEOs are introverts, says Glenn Hughes, director of Global Learning at Training Top 10 Hall of Fame company KLA-Tencor. Hughes notes that Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg both meet the description of introverts.

Help Leaders Get to Know Themselves

The first step to making great leaders, regardless of introvert or extrovert preferences, is to make sure they know themselves. Hughes says KLA-Tencor uses the DiSC personality assessment to show leaders who they are and how to optimize their strengths. Not only can understanding their personality help leaders succeed, it can guide the company on how best to train them. “I know, as an extrovert, that I require the opportunity to try and fail in a classroom setting,” says Hughes. “I want to interact with the learning content. I want to debate and challenge learning points. And I want to have fun. Based on those preferences, I don’t do my best learning in an online environment. There’s a saying we have, ‘Extroverts fail, so they can learn; introverts learn, so they don’t fail.”

Key strengths of extroverts include what Hughes calls a “bias for action,” the ability to keep moving and operating without a full plan in place. Weaknesses include a lack of depth of thought, with more talking than listening and a tendency to fall prey to “The Peter Principle,” in which an overabundance of self-confidence leads to a promotion to a higher-level position the extrovert may not be ready for.

Introverts, on the other hand, shine in their bias for reflection, in which they enjoy taking time to think and learn before making decisions. They also find it easy to listen deeply to others, to take in what the other person is saying, and then use that information to make informed decisions. Introvert weaknesses may include difficulty exuding the confidence of a loud voice and making eye contact, and a struggle to build a strong network of business contacts and allies. The discomfort of many introverts with small talk with multiple strangers at one time can make networking and industry events challenging.

Teaching a leader whether they’re an “I” or an “E” isn’t enough, says Ted Grubb, a member of the senior faculty at the Center for Creative Leadership. They have to know how that preference plays out in their day-to-day work, and how they may not be an “I” or an “E” all the time. “Most people have the potential to show ‘either/and/or,’ depending on the circumstances,” says Grubb. “Some people’s preferences even land comfortably toward the middle of the continuum, i.e., the so-called ambiverts. It is helpful to recognize your own default tendencies (i.e., “Where along the continuum am I most likely to show up, over time, across most situations?”), so you can make intentional behavior choices.”

Train to See Beyond Stereotypes

Even with extensive personality assessments, it can be difficult to predict the behavior and abilities of an extroverted and introverted person.Rather than label leaders as an introvert or extrovert, Dobrucki says Farmers takes into consideration a wide variety of factors, including overall performance and results. “If we look at results—which include attaining goals, performance, trustworthiness, developing others, and more—those attributes tend to rise to the surface no matter the behavioral qualities that leader demonstrates,” Dobrucki says.

Teach Leaders About Others Not Like Themselves

Activities that encourage different personalities to get to know each other can be helpful. Some companies, for instance, use music as a unifying experience. “We bridge the communication gap between introverts and extroverts through experiential music-based teambuilding activities,” explains Andy Sharpe, CEO of SongDivision. “If done well, a teambuilding experience can bring everyone’s energy to the same level, finding a common ground for the two leadership types to effectively work together,” he says. “For instance, a strong teambuilding program presents participants with an assignment, and challenges them to complete a task, to help them dismiss current work stresses and focus on problem solving and communicating together.”

  • Use online collaboration tools to add interaction for extroverts and provide a safe platform for introverts to engage.
  • Help leaders identify their introvert and extrovert tendencies, and areas where they may need extra help.
  • Emphasize in leadership development the need for a mix of introvert and extrovert tendencies in leadership—sometimes you can benefit from playing up your introverted side, and other times your extroverted side can be most beneficial.
  • Train leaders not to stereotype introverts and extroverts. These two types of people can be capable of acting against type, and may even do so naturally depending on the situation.
  • Use teambuilding activities to teach leaders and their work groups about one another, including how best to make their differing personalities gel.
  • Offer strategies for having difficult conversations, and remind leaders and their work groups that a mix of personalities in the organization is best.


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