Business Bites: Introversion and leadership

Nick Walsh FBDO
ABDO sector skills development officer

In this week’s Business Bites, Nick Walsh explores how introversion and leadership can – and do – often go together…

Extroverts don’t always make the best leaders

Carl Jung categorised the way human beings act and react into two attitude types: namely extroverts (the original spelling was extravert) and introverts.

It is often believed that extroverts make the best leaders. This is a strong cultural bias. Extroverts certainly have important strengths. They also tend to assume the centre of attention and take over discussions. This works well for teams where individuals need constant direction, but in dynamic and unpredictable situations, introverts are often more effective leaders —particularly when workers are proactive, offering ideas for improving the business. Such behaviour can make extroverted leaders feel threatened. In contrast, introverted leaders tend to listen more carefully and are more receptive to suggestions, making them more effective leaders of vocal teams.

So how are people classified as an extrovert or an introvert?

The purpose of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) personality inventory is to make the theory of psychological types described by Carl Jung understandable and useful in people’s lives. The essence of the theory is that much seemingly random variation in behaviour is actually quite orderly and consistent, being due to basic differences in the ways individuals prefer to use their perception and judgment.

Some people may identify more with one of the following descriptions of extraversion and introversion than the other.


I like getting my energy from active involvement in events and having a lot of different activities. I’m excited when I’m around people and I like to energise other people. I like moving into action and making things happen. I generally feel at home in the world. I often understand a problem better when I can talk out loud about it and hear what others have to say.

The following statements generally apply to me:
• I am seen as ‘outgoing’ or as a ‘people person’
• I feel comfortable in groups and like working in them
• I have a wide range of friends and know lots of people
• I sometimes jump too quickly into an activity and don’t allow enough time to think it over
• Before I start a project, I sometimes forget to stop and get clear on what I want to do and why


I like getting my energy from dealing with the ideas, pictures, memories, and reactions that are inside my head, in my inner world. I often prefer doing things alone or with one or two people I feel comfortable with. I take time to reflect, so that I have a clear idea of what I’ll be doing when I decide to act. Ideas are almost solid things for me. Sometimes I like the idea of something better than the real thing.

The following statements generally apply to me:
• I am seen as ‘reflective’ or ‘reserved’
• I feel comfortable being alone and like things I can do on my own
• I prefer to know just a few people well
• I sometimes spend too much time reflecting and don’t move into action quickly enough
• I sometimes forget to check with the outside world to see if my ideas really fit the experience

These aren’t binary personality traits and there’s plenty of grey area – but on the whole, introverts are usually quieter, contemplative and more reserved than people with extrovert personality types.

This only forms a small part of MBTI, which identifies 16 personality types. You can read more about introverted leaders in history and look at personality types on the website

Still waters run deep

In a blog on Vistage we read: “One of the most notable qualities of introverts is their power to nurture and encourage others. While exuberant, dominant leaders often like to be the ‘star’, while quiet leaders allow others to shine by asking them for their opinions or giving them opportunities to share their knowledge. This style of leadership promotes a democratic way of operating; it boosts morale and loyalty and, most importantly, it makes people feel valued. A simple and effective way to implement this type of leadership is by asking more questions and actively including others in projects that you’re working on.

From Charles Darwin to Barack Obama, some of the greatest innovators and leaders throughout history have been introverts, proving the maxim of still waters running deep. Despite this, in a business world that seems to celebrate the attributes of extroverts, it can sometimes feel like introverts are overlooked as leaders or misinterpreted.

The truth is, these days, companies – and nations – need the qualities of introverts more than ever. In a global era where uncertainty looms large and markets change in a flash, the calm, rational, analytical minds of introverts often find effective, pragmatic solutions.”

Unique personality traits

Introverts have unique personality traits that can empower them to be exceptional leaders if properly harnessed. Techniques to do this include:
Balance your time: For every one-hour meeting, make sure to plan at least 30 minutes to yourself
Get out of your own head: Write down all your ideas and share them with someone you trust. Don’t rob the world of your internal genius
Be unapologetically genuine: Don’t try to be an extrovert, or force yourself to be more outgoing or bubbly
Optimise for deeper (rather than broad) relationships: I need to know someone quite well to feel comfortable asking things of them, and ultimately these relationships end up being more rewarding both personally and professionally
Be clear about your thought process: Introverts store thoughts for a long time before speaking; be sure to make your process transparent
Action your observations: As an outsider looking in, you offer a unique viewpoint; turn all your listening and observing into actionable suggestions

Managing introverts and extroverts

You don’t necessarily need to give everyone on your team a Myers-Briggs test to figure out who’s an extrovert or introvert because in most cases, it’s quite clear. That said, some introverts are not immediately identifiable because they are practiced at acting like extroverts. In other words, they appear sociable and outgoing at work, but as soon as they get home, they collapse on the couch from exhaustion. Yes, we have extroverted introverts just to confuse the matter. In very simple terms we could look to encourage introverts to speak up and encourage extroverts to listen.

In the Harvard Business Review article, ‘How to be good at managing both introverts and extroverts’, Rebecca Knight offers these Dos and Don’ts:

• Balance social spaces with private ones
• Send the meeting agenda in advance, and occasionally ask for written feedback to give introverts time to formulate their thoughts and summon the courage to share them
• Allow people to work the way they want to; extroverts should feel comfortable taking time to socialise, while introverts should have license to work remotely or take breaks from the team

• Assume you already know everything about introversion and extroversion – make an effort to learn about how personality impacts work preferences and styles
• Overload your team with meetings; give colleagues ample, uninterrupted work time during the day
• Let a certain dominant personality do all the talking; encourage that person to reflect and listen

Other useful links

Inam H. The good news for introverted leaders. Forbes 15 April 2018
Chamorro-Premuzic T. and Winsborough D. Personality tests can help balance a team. Harvard Business Review 19 March 2015
Ly Khim D. 19 real life examples of an extroverted introvert so you don’t get confused. Lifehack