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How to manage introverts

Karen Higginbottom

Extroverts are perceived as putting themselves forward for promotion and sharing their ideas with the team while introverts are seen as quieter and more reflective. But how do organisations ensure that the strengths of introverts are recognised in a team? How does an organisation effectively lead and manage introverts? Karen Higginbottom talks to the experts about the strengths of an introverted manager and how organisations can harness those strengths for the business

Firstly what personality traits are associated with an extrovert or introvert? The psychological tool, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator would describe extroverts as those individuals who prefer a variety of tasks, may be impatient with tedious jobs, enjoy working with others and in teams, commented Dr Maria Karanika-Murray, senior lecturer, psychology at Nottingham Trent University. “Introverts on the other hand, may prefer quieter work settings, working on one thing at a time uninterrupted and prefer working on their own or in small groups.” While introverts and extroverts are often viewed in terms of two extreme opposites, the truth is that most people lie somewhere in the middle of the extroversion-introversion continuum.

Academic studies indicate that many leaders possess extrovert personalities. In an analysis of the relationship between personality and leadership emergence and effectiveness, Judge, Bono, Illes and Gerhardt in 2002 found that extroversion ‘is the most consistent correlate of leadership across study settings and leadership criteria’. However, the conventional wisdom supported by years of academic research that extroverts make better leaders was challenged by Adam Grant, Francesco Gino and David Hoffman in 2010. Their findings suggested that extroverts and introverts were equally successful in leadership roles and that introverts, in certain situations, actually make better bosses. 

Karl Moore, associate professor at the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University recently conducted research interviewing CEOs of firms employing more than 10,000 employees about their C-suite executives. He discovered that between 25-30% of C-suite executives in those firms are introverts. “Introverted managers tend to be better listeners and they process information before making a comment. They are more likely to sit and listen to what people say before they leap in. Introverted managers are more apt to give space to other people’s ideas and put the spotlight on other people.”
Introverted managers should take time to understand the qualities and benefits of team members who are extroverts, advises John Mclachlan, leadership development consultant at Monkey Puzzle training and consultancy. “This will allow them to utilise an extrovert’s skills rather than try to control them or actively stop them. Often when someone has a style that is different from yours, you cannot see the benefit of it.”

The key to understanding introverts is that they take information from the world and respond to the world in a different way from extroverts, argues Mclachlan. “Introverts prefer to listen more and will be less quick to come forward than extroverts. They need space and time to reflect and consider. In helping them to develop, it’s useful to give them private space to work. Introverts find noise distraction irritating rather than energising. Don’t force them to participate in large group work whenever possible. You will get much more out of them in small groups or one-to-one meetings.”

Introverts are great at roles that require gravitas, considered thought and a keen awareness of risk, commented Mclachlan. “Introverts play an invaluable role in any group as they are generally more reflective, think things though and consider risks. Because they are natural thinkers and enjoy working through their thoughts alone, they often have amazing ideas no-one else has thought of.”

Dr Patricia Hind, director, centre for research in executive development at Ashridge Business School believes that organisations must acknowledge the strengths that introverts bring to the workplace. “In our action-orientated Western culture, we tend to overlook the thoughtful people who are not making a lot of noise and attracting attention to themselves.  Our preferred organisational processes are often collaborative and public, like brainstorming and these don’t speak to introverted strengths. Organisations must make both emotional and physical room for introverts by allowing them to be thoughtful and analytic and even by making some ‘quiet spaces’ available.”

Hind also argues that it’s important that introverts as team members be allowed to play their part in the way that suits them best. “Perhaps that is working more closely with fewer individuals and making sure they have some time in relative privacy to re-charge their batteries,” she says. “Line managers should be sure that they can recognise introversion when they see it, and not write off reserved or quiet behaviours as disengagement.”

Both personality types are absolutely essential for a balanced workplace, argues Tim Taylor, director of leadership consultancy Making Great Leaders. “Typically in the workplace, half of the team will be introverts and the other half extroverts. The positives of the introverts is that they’re motivated by themselves. Senior managers can be more sensitive to the introverts on their teams and helping the other team members appreciate their differences.”

    Comments

  • Abdullah Al serhani

    this article challenges the conventional wisdom. i go with the notion that introvert could make a good leader as well.  

    By their nature, they can spend more time in reflection and analysis of data. this will naturally lead to better problem solving and accurate decision making. a rare bread in today's leaders.

    Nevertheless, leader should master a wide spectrum or contradicting skills. ie, he should be able to swing from an introvert poster to an extrovert depending on the mandate of the situation in hand.  

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