Man and woman talking

Introverted leaders: challenging the extroverted ideal

Why an introverted leader might be more powerful than you think

3 minute read
Man and woman talking

When you envision a leader, do you see an individual exuding charisma, commanding the room with assertiveness and undeniable presence?

These are the hallmarks of the extroverted leader that we recognise.

However, in today’s rapidly changing professional realm, it is crucial to revisit this entrenched stereotype and spotlight the leadership alternative – the introverted leader.

As we transition into an age that values diverse leadership styles, we address the pressing question: can an introvert be an effective leader?

Why extroverts often stand in the spotlight

Globally there is a prevailing notion that extroverted leaders, with their outspoken and gregarious nature, are inherently the better choice for teams.

As Organisational Psychologist Dr Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic illustrates in Why Do So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders published by the Harvard Business Review, there is frequent confusion between confidence and genuine competence, especially among male leaders.

“Pretty much anywhere in the world, men tend to think they are much smarter than women,” he said.

“Yet arrogance and overconfidence are inversely related to leadership talent – the ability to build and maintain high-performing teams and to inspire followers to set aside their selfish agendas to work for the common interest of the group.

“Indeed, whether in sports, politics or business, the best leaders are usually humble.”

Regrettably, Dr Chamorro-Premuzic argues, too many management positions are filled by those who are less competent but more self-centred, overconfident and narcissistic.

Why introverts can make good leaders

While frequently under the radar, introverted leaders bring an, often, underappreciated skill set to leadership roles, according to The University of Queensland Business School Senior Lecturer Dr Marissa Edwards.

An introverted person can certainly be an effective leader; we know they are often good at sustaining attention and making thoughtful, measured decisions.

Research by Adam Grant and colleagues suggests that introverted leaders are especially effective when engaging with proactive employees such as those who offer suggestions for change," she said.

“While extroverted leaders can interpret this as threatening, introverted leaders demonstrate better listening skills and are more open to employees’ ideas.”

Highlighting an example, Dr Edwards said being vocal and socially engaged – traits often linked with leadership – do not necessarily correlate with effective management.

“Former Yahoo! Chief Executive Officer Marissa Mayer appears to have some of the qualities of an introverted leader,” she said.

“For example, she shared in an interview that she suffers from shyness, saying that for the first 15 minutes, she wants to leave any party.

“Yet, she has also discussed the importance of listening to employees, saying, ‘There are often times when I do voice my opinion but sometimes I don’t, because I want to also be a good listener. It’s about hitting that balance right’.”

Are extroverts better leaders then?

Not necessarily, Dr Edwards contends.

“While extroverted leaders might be naturally more assertive, assertiveness is a learnable skill, not the sole purview of extroverts,” she said.

“Leadership effectiveness encompasses more than just personality; it hinges on the work environment, role-specific skills and other competencies.”

Beyond the stereotypes

Challenging the extroverted leadership archetype is not about sidelining extroverted leaders.

It is about embracing a broader understanding of leadership styles.

Leadership should not be confined to stereotypes; it is about motivating, inspiring and ensuring every team member feels valued.

For introverts doubting their leadership potential due to societal expectations or self-doubt, Dr Edwards has some words of encouragement.

“Focus on skill development, welcome feedback from your peers, find mentors for guidance and remember that introverted people can be effective leaders, bringing a valuable skill set to the workplace,” she said.