Do extroverts make the best leaders?

Surely they do? After all, they are assertive, inspiring and dominant. Extrovert leaders are strong leaders.

Or so we thought.

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Recent studies now suggest that introverts are better listeners, are more inclined to reflect, may be more creative, and are certainly more sympathetic communicators. And they are less inclined to dominate or interrupt conversations. So there is a growing school of thought that introverts can, in fact, be more effective in leadership.

But actually, it turns out that even this is also only partly true.

The reality is that neither introverts NOR extroverts make the best leaders. Because the most effective leadership needs a balance of the two, and leaders who only exhibit a strong dominance of one characteristic or the other tend to lack that balance.

And there is anecdotal evidence that suggests that it is significantly easier to teach an introvert (‘i-preference’) how to communicate more assertively than it is to teach an extrovert (‘e-preference’) how to be a more considerate listener.

Delegates on Henley Business School’s Developing Management Practice programme have been discovering that the foundation of the solution for many managers is a heightened awareness of their own preference, coupled with a deeper understanding of the preferences of other team members and stakeholders.

For example, managers who are more inclined to working on their own may need to adapt their behaviour to create a more effective rapport with extrovert teams, which thrive on group meetings and collective problem-solving activities. Delegation is another area in which a recognition of different behavioural types is critical to achieving positive outcomes. And working in open-plan offices presents particular challenges for those who are more introverted, and operate most effectively when given their own time and space.

Programme Directors Denise Fryer and Debora Brockwell cite the self-awareness that the programme instils – through a variety of workshops and tools such as MBTi® – as one of the key reasons for its success:

‘Time after time, we see participants who initially have a strong bias towards one end of the spectrum or the other, having those lightbulb moments when they realise the consequences of their own behaviour. It’s very gratifying to see how their self-awareness and behavioural understanding has shifted over the duration of the programme, to the point where they become much more balanced, much more aware of their behaviours and – as a result – more effective as communicators and leaders.

‘This year, we have seen a theme of managers who have an i-preference who need to be more influential and effective within their e-preference organisations. Through our coaching those individuals are able to consider their intent and impact and develop ways of adapting their own style accordingly.’

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If you have any questions, please contact our programme advisors, Hannah, Ruhi & Diana by email at exec@henley.ac.uk or by phone on +44 (0)1491 418767.