Introverts vs. Extroverts: Who’s the better CEO?

For years, the world of business and entrepreneurship has been considered one for extroverts. After all, how are you supposed to manage employees, meet with clients, create new business partnerships, and handle public relations if you despise the thought of having to interact with this many people?

Before we dive into talking about introverts/extroverts in leadership roles in the business world, letӳ first talk about what those words actually mean.

If someone is an introvert that just means theyӲe shy, right? Not necessarily.

Myers Briggs explains introverts (or those with introverted tendencies) as those who tend to recharge by spending time alone. They lose energy from being around people for long periods of time, particularly large crowds.

Shy people, in contrast, avoid socializing out of fear of the unfamiliar. They worry about being seen as foolish, or of being rejected or humiliated. The two characteristics – being an introvert and being shy – could occur together or separately.

Extroverts, however, gain energy from other people. They recharge when theyӲe being social.

pic of something - maybe of a famous introvert

These different ends of the spectrum can clearly have an impact on how someone interacts with others, and how someone is perceived by others, which can therefore have a huge effect on someone’s leadership style. If others perceive someone as shy and docile, how are they supposed to follow that person?

Until recently, the main advice given to introverts in business was simply to be more like an extrovert. But why tell an apple to act like an orange, instead of just telling it to find or create an environment which allows it to thrive as an apple? Many world leaders (including CEOs) have let it be known recently that they are in fact introverts.

Who, you ask? Household names like J.K. Rowling, Bill Gates, Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein, Mahatma Gandhi, Rosa Parks, and Warren Buffett. And that’s just naming a few.

The topic of introverts in the business world has been covered in well-known newspapers such as the Wall Street Journal, The Huffington Post, and USA Today. Additionally several academic studies have been conducted on leadership, and specifically about the question of introverts/extroverts in leadership roles.

pic about study/data collection or of introvert/extrovert in crowd

Studies about Introverts/Extroverts in Leadership

In the December 2010 edition of the Harvard Business Review, Grant, Gino & Hoffman posit that while extroverts indeed make the best leader in most cases, there are certain cases in which an introvert would make a better leader.

There were two sources of data for this study. First, the researchers sent questionnaires to managers and employees at 130 franchises of a U.S. pizza delivery company. The bosses of the franchises were asked how extroverted they viewed themselves as being, and employees were ask how often they or colleagues suggested ideas for improved procedures. The researchers also collected data on each store’s profitability.

“The results showed that in stores where employees werenӴ very proactive, extroverted leadership was associated with 16% higher profits than averageآut in franchises where workers offered ideas, extroverted leadership was associated with 14% lower profits.”

Second, the researchers conducted their own experiment with 163 college students to see how many T-Shirts they could fold in 10 minutes. In each group there was a leader and four followers, two of whom were research assistants posing as followers. Leaders were pre-exposed to either an extroverted or introverted leadership style. In some groups, the planted followers would speak up after 90 seconds and suggest a better way of folding the shirts. It was found that in groups with the “introverted” leaders in which a follower proactively suggested an improved method – there were 28% more T-Shirts folded at the end of the 10 minutes.

“The extroverted leaders appeared threatened by and unreceptive to proactive employees. The introverted leaders listened carefully and made employees feel valued, motivating them to work hard.”

Extrovert leaders tend to dominate discussions and command the attention of the group. In situations where there are proactive ԦollowersԠwho present ideas for improving things in the business – acts which can make extroverts feel threatened. The study concluded that introverts make better leaders in situations where employees are proactive and offer ideas, because they are more likely to be open to innovation, and less likely to feel threatened by employees offering new ideas.

Emanuelsson & Lindqvist (2014) posit that introverts are as effective as extroverts in leadership roles, but simply lead in a different style.

This study surveyed 43 managers at a technology consultancy company. Six managers, who exhibited the qualities of both being successful leaders and were introverts, were selected to be interviewed. Interviews consisted of in depth questions about the interviewee’s personality, success, work life, and more.

“Introverted traits can be used in a very successful way in order
to build strong leadership… the common perception that a leader needs to possess extroverted traits as well as charisma in order to be successful needs to be revised.”

The study found that introverted leaders are more likely to have the qualities of being engaged listeners, taking personal time to reflect on issues, and having focused and deep conversations, in addition to having a “methodical and structured way of working.” The study found that introverts use these qualities to “engage subordinates, solve conflicts, making decision and influencing others as well as in strategic planning.”

There are dozens of other studies about introverts/extroverts in leadership roles, and I encourage you to look further into the topic – it’s really quite interesting.

In the end, just because an extrovert is louder, doesn’t mean that they’re a better leader or know what they’re talking about. And, just because an introvert is quiet doesn’t mean that they’re not planning for the next five steps to be taken for the project being discussed. There are many factors at play here, and just because people tend to assume that a certain type of person is a better leader, doesn’t mean that that assumption is correct.

Before I conclude – take the time to reflect and figure out whether you’re more introverted or extroverted. There are many free possibilities available online – ranging from options such as a five minute quiz from Fortune to a more in-depth quiz from Psychology Today.


So, Who Should Be CEO?

It doesn’t necessarily matter whether the person is an introvert or an extrovert, as there are plenty of other factors at play. There are many different leadership styles, and many different types of personalities that comprise a team. With the right combination – both introverts and extroverts can be extremely successful CEOs. The key to success seems to be being aware of where one falls on the introvert/extrovert spectrum, acknowledging how that affects one’s leadership style, and then creating a team that works optimally well with that leadership style. Easy, right?

Aidan DuganJune 6, 2016

Aidan Dugan

Sociolinguist & phonologist. Former researcher of innovative military communication strategies & technologies. Passion for local & sustainable farming solutions.