For many years, I had a sweatshirt that said “Diplomacy: The art of letting someone else have your way.” I even wore it to a Leadership Team retreat one time, when I was working to build influence among people over whom I had no authority. About half the people in the room smiled at the open admission of how I worked. The other half likely didn’t even notice what the sweatshirt said — which is not meant as a criticism but a recognition that different people approach leadership differently. While people often think of leaders as being extroverted, there is a growing recognition, thanks in part to Susan Cain’s book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a world That Can’t Stop Talking” , that a sizeable portion of successful leaders are actually introverts.
I personally skew toward introversion . . . which is not to say I’m shy or uncomfortable speaking in public. I do, however, seek solitude to re-charge my batteries, or to grapple with an especially difficult challenge, as opposed to an extroverted person who is typically energized by their interactions with multiple friends and colleagues. Introverts tend to be “noticers”, empathizing with others. They are more likely to connect with Harry Truman’s sentiment that “It’s amazing what you can accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit.” Extroverts, on the other hand, tend to be full of enthusiasm and energy, they are quick to make decisions and willing to shake things up a bit. They are the charismatic leaders who appear “larger than life” and are usually more than willing to lead the charge.
Of course, most people are not 100% introverted or extroverted, but rather fall somewhere on a continuum. There is even a term — ambivert — for people who are equal parts introvert and extrovert. From my perspective, the leanings of the individual leading an organization are less important than whether or not there is a balance of introversion and extroversion on the senior leadership team. Too many introverts, and you will have great in-depth analysis, but maybe not enough decision-making. Too many extroverts, and you’ll be moving fast, but maybe not in the right direction.
Have you considered the “E to I” balance on your team? Do you seek equal input from both personality types, or is one or the other given more weight in discussion? Do you allow enthusiasm or data to have more impact in decision-making? Do you expect immediate decisions in a team meeting or do you allow time for individual reflection? I realize these may not be either/or questions, but they can be helpful in shining a light on the leanings of your team.
As noted in a recent blog (Roots of Leadership), scores of research studies have failed to identify a profile of an ideal leader. Whether you are an introvert or an extrovert is ultimately less important than ensuring both perspectives are represented on your team.