Leadership Perspectives

Do you prefer extraversion or introversion? Your leadership style may depend upon it.

When it comes to learning effective leadership, there are guidelines, there is wisdom, there’s even common sense, but there is not one style that fits all.  That’s because leaders are people first and foremost, and people come in all types – literally and figuratively.

To increase our effectiveness, we have to start with self-understanding, that is, an understanding of our personality type, our gifts, and our blind spots.  Then we have to build a personal leadership style that is all our own.

Carl Jung, a well-known 20th century psychologist, was one of the first to identify personality types.  Jung asserted that:

  • We all have different ways that we prefer to take in information; this goes hand-in-hand with the types of information that we trust.
  • That we make decisions differently either based on a preference for logic or a preference for empathy.
  • That in addition to these functions, we each have an attitude preference based on whether we draw our energy from the external world or our own internal world; in other words, do we prefer introversion or do we prefer extraversion?

It’s this last one – extraversion (Jung’s spelling) versus introversion – that I think is so misunderstood, especially in leadership, and that I want to talk about today.

Extraversion and Introversion misunderstood.

In conversation last week with a coaching client, I acknowledged my own preference for introversion.  The client’s immediate response was “NO WAY!”  She’d seen me any number of times leading seminars and retreats; she certainly could not believe that I was shy.  And I certainly seemed to enjoy public speaking.

I DO enjoy engaging with audiences, working to get them involved, and being in conversation with them.  I am not at all shy.  But it’s not uncommon, when the audience leaves, for me to feel depleted and in need of a ‘recharge.’

That’s one of the key differences between introverted leaders and extraverted leaders.  They recharge in entirely different ways.  While the extraverted leader gains energy by taking the team out on Friday night, the introverted leader may need time alone to recharge.

Other differences may include:

The way they praise.  While it is not uncommon for the extraverted leader to give lush praise, the introverted leader, may feel false or insincere offering abundant praise and may choose less demonstrative ways to reward employees or simply not do so.

How they process ideas.  While extraverts can be known to “think out loud,” introverts often will keep their thoughts to themselves until they have had time to reflect on new ideas or decisions.

Communication Style.  The extraverted leader may prefer to communicate face-to-face while the introverted leader may prefer written communication.

Group size.  Leaders with preference for extraversion may enjoy being a part of large gatherings while the leader with a preference for introversion may prefer to work with people one-on-one or in small intimate groups.

How they handle stress.  When the extraverted leader is under stress, it’s not uncommon for them to let everyone know it.  The introverted leader has a tendency to “suffer in silence.”

Scope of focus.  Extraverts often tackle many projects or have broad interests while introverts may have a greater depth of focus on fewer things.

As authentic leaders, it is imperative that we recognize our preferences, and use the strengths they provide.  At the same time, we must recognize that any gift can become a liability.

Have you figured out whether you prefer introversion or extraversion?

Here’s a little homework for next time.  (hmm … sounds a little like a coaching session.)  First make a list of all the ways that your preference for introversion or extraversion may help you in your leadership endeavors.  Remember none of us is one way all the time.  But when you are operating using your preference, how is that helpful?

Then list all the ways that you can think of where your preference may create blind side or not serve your leadership well.

That’s enough homework for now.  I’ll check in with you in a couple of weeks.



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