Early research on leadership often has asked questions such as what are the characteristics or behaviours of a good leader. I would like to address these questions again here in relation to two personality types, extroversion and introversion. My question is- Do extroverted or introverted people make better leaders? Before we can answer this question, we first have to ask – What does the word good refer to? When we say a leader is good, we usually mean that he or she is an effective leader. Hitler and Stalin were effective leaders, but were they good leaders? I would say no. A good leader has to be both effective and ethical as well. Through out this essay I will be referring to a good leader as being both effective and ethical in order to compare whether extroverted or introverted people make better leaders.
Trait leadership theory is based on the assumptions that some traits are particularly suited to leadership and that good leaders have the right combination of traits. Some of the traits that were found to be higher in leaders compared to non-leaders in some early work (reviewed by Stogdill, 1974; House and Baetz, 1979) are such as intelligence, dominance/need for power, self-confidence, energy/ persistence and knowledge of the task. Extraversion is also one of the personality characteristics that have been found in some studies to be more characteristic of leaders compared to non-leaders (Arnold, 2005, p. 484). Numerous studies have identified a connection between extraversion and leadership. A model that predicted an association between leadership with extraversion showed a significant positive linear effect, (ß = 0.30), t (209) = 4.57, p < .01 (Ames & Flynn, 2007, p. 319). It is also popular belief that leaders should be extraverted. To many people, sitting back while others talk is not behavior for a leader. To them a leader should be in the middle of the conversation asking questions and giving directions. Another common conception exists that the leader should be the center of attention. Due to preconceptions and internal schemas of how leaders should act, many believe that a leader must be extroverted in order to be effective. But is this true? If it is, then does this mean that introverts cannot be effective leaders or that introverts should be trained to act like extroverts in leadership positions? However, taking into consideration the fact that extraverts make up an estimated seventy percent of the population and the point that the definition of effective leaders is a social construct formed by the majority, maybe we should reconsider the idea that extraverts make better leaders. Also based on the notion that we tend to prefer people who are similar to us may be also a possible reason as to why extraverts are preferred leaders. According to Felfe and Schyns, followers’ extraversion seems to influence the perception of leadership. Felfe and Schyns warn that feedback of followers high in extraversion tend to be biased positively, in contrast to feedback from introverts because of the positive correlation of extraversion with acceptance (2006, p. 728).
According to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (a measurement instrument of human behaviour based on the studies of Carl Jung), the classification of extraversion and introversion is a reflection of an individual’s preference for interacting with the world. Extraverts are energized by the outer world of people, places and things. Whereas, introverts are energized by their inner world of ideas, thoughts and concepts (Waddell, 2006). Another definition of extraversion, “refers to the extent to which individuals are sociable, loquacious, energetic, adventurous and assertive” (Goldberg, 1992; McCrae & Costa, 1987 cited in Moss & Ngu, 2006).
As leaders, extraverts are open verbal communicators who share more than they hold back. Extraverts also prefer to talk rather than to listen and reflect. Their tendency to think out loud and to speak what is on their mind without reflecting on their thoughts and ideas may sometimes lead to information being leaked out or being taken as decisions or policies. According to Cooper, Agocha and Sheldon (2000), “extraversion has been demonstrated to promote the incidence of risky activities” (Moss & Ngu, 2006). This risk-taking behaviour of extraverts may be very useful in some fields such as the business field where taking risks is an essential part of everyday decision- making. An introvert may lack the capacity to make risky decisions because of their tendency to reflect on their ideas and ponder over them again and again. Of course risk-taking is not always the best behaviour in all situations and may lead to disastrous outcomes sometimes. They are also quick decision makers and action takers. Again depending on the situation, this could be an advantage or disadvantage. For example, in a military setting sometimes quick decisions and actions have to be made and taken or it might have a negative effect on the situation. Situational leadership theory which is based on the assumption that the best action of the leader depends on a range of situational factors supports this idea.
Introverted leaders may usually share only small pieces of information even though they may have a lot of ideas brewing under the surface. Due to the introvert’s preference to filter and process his or her thoughts and ideas before sharing them and sometimes later revising his or her decisions after further reflection, they have sometimes been labelled as indecisive ( Kroeger and Thuesen, 2002 cited in Waddell, 2006). Similar to the extravert, an introvert’s slow speed of making decisions and acting may be an advantage in some situations, but a disadvantage in others. Therefore, an extrovert should be allowed the opportunity to think out loud and realize on his own that a lot of what was said was of little value and an introvert should be allowed more time to think before pressuring them for a final answer (Waddell, 2006).
“Myers and Myers (1995) point out that extraverts tend to broaden the sphere of their work, to present their products early and often to the world, to make themselves known within a wide circle, and to multiply relationships and activities” (Waddell, 2006). This is important for them as they get their energy from other people and outer influences. Encouragement and support of others also have a big effect on them. Introverts, on the other hand tend to go more deeply into their work and seldom publish it. They do not need the encouragement and support of others because they are energized from an inner source. Waddell (2006) is of the opinion that the extravert takes for himself or herself much of the encouragement and affirmation that actually could be passed on to the followers instead to empower them.
Individual responsibility should be one of the characteristics of a good leader because the leader should take responsibility for all those followers who may be affected by the outcomes of his or her words and actions. Waddell posits that individual responsibility presents a greater challenge for extroverts compared to introverts because an extravert tends to think out loud and to speak what’s on his mind, whereas, an introvert tends to filter and process information thoroughly before sharing his thoughts. “Greanleaf explains that the requirements of responsibility necessitate an individual asking searching questions reflectively, which requires that one be alone with their thoughts and accept the presence of a deeper self” (Greanleaf cited in Waddell, 2006). It is more natural for an introvert to spend reflective time alone because it is part of an introvert’s recharging process, while it is unnatural and draining to an extravert.
In Patterson’s model of servant leadership, seven different constructs were used to describe a servant leader. Out of the seven, four of the constructs appear to be in opposition to the source of energy for extroverts. The four constructs are humility, altruism, service and perhaps trust. Therefore, it is proposed that the proportion of individuals expressing a preference for introversion are more likely to be identified as servant leaders by their followers.
According to Myers and Myers, extraverts have more worldly wisdom and a better sense of expediency than introverts. Introverts, on the other hand have an advantage in unworldly wisdom and the ability to grasp and accept moral principles in its abstract form without having to experience it first unlike the extravert. Hence, Waddell proposes that the introvert’s unworldly wisdom and ability to grasp moral principles in their abstract form makes them better servant leaders compared to extraverts (Waddell, 2006). Extraversion also seems to be connected to dominance and the need for power more than introversion. Introverts tend to lack the trait of dominance and are not so much motivated by external sources of energy. A high level of dominance and need for personal power may prevent a leader from maintaining good relationships with his or her followers and team members (Arnold, 2005, p. 484). Other than that, the need for power can be a dangerous quality when it becomes the main motivation of the leader because as we all know power has proven to corrupt many leaders throughout history. Leaders motivated by power also tend to have decreased individual responsibility. Therefore, could it be said that introverted leaders are more likely than extraverted leaders to be ethical?
Moss and Ngu (2006) posit that in specific instances, extraversion should affect the association between personality traits and leadership preferences. Extraverts, they say are more likely than introverts to prefer transformational leadership because of their own individual fundamental drives. The regression analyses in the study revealed that extraversion is positively correlated to preferences towards transformational leadership. Another study done by Judge and Bono (2000) also found that extroversion positively predicted transformational leadership (cited in Hetland & Sandal, 2003, p. 147). Findings suggest that transformational leadership is more likely to promote desirable work attitudes in employees such as promoting more cohesion and interaction among team members. In short, transformational leadership seems to be the preferred type of leadership style compared to transactional or laissez-faire leadership. Moss and Ngu also propose that when extraversion is elevated, agreeable individuals (referring to the trait of agreeableness in the five-factor model of personality) will be more likely to emphasize and support the potential benefits of laissez-faire leadership. Whereas, when extraversion is limited, agreeable individuals are more likely to have a negatively related preference towards laissez-faire leadership.
Young suggests that there may be two types of leaders just as there are two types of personalities (extraversion and introversion). “One type of leader controls men and practical situations, in business, politics, military activities, and the ritualistic and organized phases of religion” (Young, 1930, p. 12). The second type of leader controls material objects or non-material phenomena. The leader may be involved in invention or scientific research, or over non-material phenomena such as in the arts or philosophy. The first kind of leader is more likely to be an extravert because of the requirement of the position to have good interpersonal communication skills. In contrast, the second leader type is more likely to be an introvert as the position demands a large percentage of the time to be devoted to reflection and thinking in isolation (Young, 1930, p. 13).
I would conclude that both extraverts and introverts can make good leaders because they both have valuable traits that can contribute to being effective and ethical leaders. Although introverts are found to make better servant leaders than extroverts, extroverts have been found to make better transformational leaders than introverts. Being aware of the strengths and weaknesses of extraverts and introverts can help in positioning them in the most appropriate leadership positions in order for their full potentials as leaders to be realized. Therefore, the traits of extraversion should not be forced on to an introvert in hope of developing a better leader as this will only decrease the ability of the potential leader. Myers and Myers (1995) say that the ablest introverts do not try to be extroverts, rather they have learned to deal with the outer world without changing their (less preferred) way of interacting with the world (cited in Waddell, 2006). Followers should also take into account their personal biases when choosing the right leader as these biases may prevent introverts from being chosen as leaders.
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