What do these words mean and, more importantly, do they make a difference? Accordingly to Myers-Briggs type theory, everyone has both an extraverted side and an introverted side, with one “simply” being more dominant than the other.
Enthusiastic vs Reserved
Extraverts tend to enjoy human interaction and tend to be enthusiastic, positive and highly networked. They are dominant and outgoing, getting their energy from being around people. This isn’t to suggest that they can’t be shy but they do speak easily and readily.
Introverts, on the other hand, are much more reserved, gaining their energy from reflection and time alone. They think before they talk and can get overwhelmed by the social noise at large gatherings. Introverts tend to do over-represented in school programs for the gifted and take up positions in academic settings.
So, does this make a difference in leadership? Indeed it does.
Among managers and executives in the corporate sector, the higher you go up the hierarchy the more likely you are to find highly extraverted individuals (Ones and Dilchert, 2009), with 96% of managers exhibiting extraverted behaviors and 60% of top executives being highly extraverted.
And in our own field?
In my own studies of urban public library leaders, extraverts represent a majority, far more than one would find among librarians and indeed more reflective of the general population and in my study of library branch managers (Haycock, 2011) the only distinguishing feature of those considered “exemplary” was that they exhibited extraverted behaviors.
Only Extraverts Need Apply?
What does this mean? That only extraverts make good leaders?
Not at all.
First, extraverted behaviors can be taught. (The only question here is why this is not being done, in LIS programs, in continuing education programs and in conference sessions.)
Second, social networking has changed the landscape, opening up new opportunities for expressing views, making contributions and networking.
Third, there is growing evidence that in fact introverts may make better managers. Why? Well, to start with, they listen better (Grant, Gino and Hofmann, 2010). Extraversion does predict leadership emergence (to some extent through social attention) and effectiveness, but what of their work groups? Extraverts tend to be the centre of attention and to dominate discussions. But where teams are active, engaged and vocal, the introverted leader is less threatened, more open to new ideas from others and more able to motivate and improve productivity—people feel more valued.
Is there cultural bias? To be sure. Senior executives often see introversion as a barrier to leadership. (This can be due in part to the tendency to hire people like ourselves.)
Nevertheless, as we each have both an extraverted side and an introverted side, we can learn to develop the behaviors and strengths of the other and use them appropriately, and to work effectively with diverse work groups.