The Myth of the “Lone Ranger ”

extroverted leadershipWestern culture, particularly in business and politics, seems to be in love with the charismatic leader — the guns blazing, no-holds barred, centre-of-attention leader, who is a super-confident, aggressively decisive leader of a band of star-struck followers.

It is an interesting question why do we value extroversion in leaders?  Is it something to with our individualistic society?

And in love we are! 

Research from the  Academy of Management Journal reported that whereas just 50% of the general population is extroverted, 96% of managers and executives display such personalities.

I have to say these figures don’t really reflect my personal experience in NZ corporates but the point is well made.

According to the aforementioned journal study, the higher you go in a corporate hierarchy, the more likely you are to find highly extrovert individuals. ( I think you could put together a persuasive  case that the GFC and Wall Street financial scandals and even foreign policy and political problems are linked to the dominance of extroverted leaders.)

The Academy of Management Journal research (Francesca Gino of Harvard University and David Hoffman of the University of North Carolina,) shows a significant correlation between the types of leadership style needed and the personalities and behaviour of employees.

They argue that extroverted leadership commands attention: being assertive, bold, talkative and dominant, providing a clear authority, structure and direction. However, pairing extroverted leaders with employees who take the initiative, are more independent and speak out can lead to conflict, while pairing the same type of employees with an introverted leader can be more successful.

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The study also showed when employees are more proactive, introverted managers lead them to higher profits, whereas where employees are not proactive, extroverted managers are more successful. They concluded that introverted and extroverted leadership styles can be equally effective, but with different kinds of employees.

It could be that the status and reputation of quiet, introverted leadership is undervalued and under-appreciated.

It is clear extroverts are still favoured in recruiting and promoting decisions. Yet recent research reveals that introverted, quiet leaders may be more suited for today’s workplaces.

“Introverts are more receptive to people since they tend to listen more than extroverts,” Gino says. “The fact they are more receptive is due primarily to their ability and willingness to listen carefully to what others have to say without being threatened.”

One thing is for sure. The workplace is populated by increasing numbers of intelligent, knowledge workers, frequently in self-managing teams, particularly those of Generation Y.

Many of these workers don’t see themselves as passive employees waiting for orders nor do they want to be controlled by an egocentric extroverted leader. So maybe the time is right for us to embrace the  introverted leadership style or at least look for a better balance in leadership styles in some of our organisations.

I would be interested in any views from senior leadership recruiters out there do we place too much weight on being an extrovert?.

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