CMA Centre for Innovation: Introverts in the Executive SuiteNov 27, 2015
One of the hottest topics in research on leadership these days is the revelation that contrary to conventional wisdom, introverts can thrive as leaders of large organizations – and indeed have a multitude of personality traits that can bring success to their role that extroverts cannot offer.
Karl Moore, associate professor at Desautels Faculty of Management, McGill University, spoke about his research on this subject in a special CMA Centre for Innovation research presentation at the Segal Graduate School on November 26.
Moore’s interest in the subject was sparked by the 2012 New York Times best seller by Susan Cain, Quiet, which documents that introverts have a lot to bring to the table. Since the book’s publication, Moore has interviewed more than 100 CEOs – including the heads of Virgin, Shoppers Drugmart, Bombardier, and Bell – on whether or not they are introverts, what strengths they typically bring to the table, and how they manage fellow introverts, as well as extroverts.
“The literature says all leaders are essentially extroverts, but this is utter nonsense: 25 to 30 percent of CEOs are introverts according to my research,” said Moore. “They are running hugely successful organizations employing more than 5,000 people. It is a Darwinian struggle to make it to the top, and you have to be a strong leader to manage it, but many of those who do are introverts.”
Moore self-defines as an extrovert – someone who can take a lot of stimulation before they have to stop and think – and admitted that after being alone in his office for a period of time he craves human interaction in order to recharge. Conversely, introverts feel most alive when they are in quieter, more low-key environments. Introversion differs from shyness, however, which is a fear of social judgment.
He then spoke of the strengths that an extroverted leader can bring to the position, and the weaknesses that they must be aware of in order to overcome. They are likely to be good at schmoozing, for example, a skill that can be especially useful in working a room when fundraising. On the other hand, they are likely to have a tendency to rush into things without thinking it through fully, and are generally not good listeners. While they may be inspiring, they must be careful not to talk too much at the expense of listening to people.
Introverts, meanwhile, have many skills that can translate into good leadership – but they must work hard to exercise their talents. An introverted boss must make an effort to make small talk with their employees, for example, lest they be viewed as aloof and cause tension among their employees. They should also strive to appear confident and decisive in order to earn the trust of the people they manage.
Moore cited the popular book How to Win Friends and Influence People, first published in 1936, as being responsible for a culture that favours the man of action rather than a contemplator. Though there is a perception of talkers as being leaders, regardless of what they say, there is a need to distinguish leadership from good presentation skills.
Between one third and one half of the world’s population are introverts, and it is incorrect to disregard this many people as being capable of leading. Further, research has shown that introverts’ brains differ to those of extroverts, indicating that it is not just a matter of personality, but rather the inherent nature of introverts to behave as such. Moore therefore cautioned extroverts not to become frustrated with introverts, given that their behaviour is in their nature rather than a personal choice.
Stressing that it is a spectrum rather than two absolutes, Moore identified a third category – a middle ground he referred to as “ambiverts”. He also cautioned that it can be detrimental to assume that someone is an extrovert, noting that some are actually introverts who “put on their game face” when they come to work to perform their role.
In closing, Moore offered a comprehensive set of guidelines for introverts and extroverts to work together. Extroverts, for example, should allow introverts time to think; refrain from pressuring them to be up front; give them time to commit to a stance; give them information to read ahead of meetings; meet with them one on one or in small groups; and offer quiet feedback.
Meanwhile, introverts can work effectively with extroverts by using their talent for listening to be an active, enthusiastic, non-judgmental listener; letting the extroverts be the centre of attention in the group from time to time; encouraging them to inspire others; letting them work the room with bigger groups; and harnessing their superior networking skills.
“The ideal composition of a successful team in business would have a mix of both introverts and extroverts, all working in unison to harness the best of each other,” Moore said.
For more information on the CMA Centre for Innovation, visit beedie.sfu.ca/cma-centre/