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Does your workforce need an introverted leader?

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Posted by steve on August 20, 2011 at 10:29 pm

As an expansion stage software organization CEO, have you ever thought about how introverted or extroverted your workers are, and how their extroversion or introversion can influence the team dynamics, employee development and thought leadership within your organization? On the other hand, as the workers of start-up firms, do you consider yourself an extrovert or an introvert? If you consider yourself as an introvert, do you worry about lacking the so called “extroverted leadership skills” to rise up the ladder?

A current Harvard Business School faculty investigative study found that extroverted managers can be a liability to a company’s performance, especially if the followers of that manager are also extroverts. This means that there is a surplus of people sharing suggestions and very few are truly involved in making them happen. This restricts creative, new ideas from turning into profitable projects, because the leader is spending too much time talking, rather than converting ideas into action. On the other hand, an introverted leader is more likely to listen to his/her team. If a majority of the team is extroverted and eager to take initiative, the group’s members will benefit from an introverted leader who’s there to listen and help them cope with their issues at work. However, for the same reasons, if the team consists of an introverted manager and introverted team-members, meetings may conclude with too much contemplation and a shortage of talk. As a result, not much is likely to be achieved in these circumstances as well.

The HBS study was based on field data taken from a national pizza delivery chain. It surveyed 57 pizza store managers and 374 workers not only about their personalities, but also on their coworkers’ personalities. The survey integrated a 5-point scale, where the respondents rated themselves on adjectives like “reserved”, “introverted”, “talkative” and “bold”. Respondents also ranked their group’s more general attitudes/behaviors on matters like, “try to correct a faulty procedure or practice” and “communicate your opinion about work issues to others even if their opinions differ or others disagree”. The final results of the survey were then measured up and analyzed against the overall profitability of the pizzeria over a 7-week period. The survey results and profitability comparisons showed that pizzerias with introverted managers but proactive workers, and pizzerias with extroverted managers but passive employees (as in followers) had the maximum profits. Alternatively, stores that had extroverted managers leading extroverted employees, and stores with introverted managers and passive employees suffered reduced profits. The extrovert leader-introvert follower and introvert leader-extrovert follower model is true for a majority of cases. However, there is still a dilemma. How is it possible to inspire introverts who are less likely to campaign for themselves to rise to the business leadership roles?

Faria is a Market Research Analyst, responsible for carrying out marketing research assignments for OpenView Labs.

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