Quiet People Rarely Lead

Quiet people never lead?  Really?  At least that’s the conventional wisdom on the subject. Often, though, conventional wisdom is revealed to be unwise and so the work of change the convention begins. That’s precisely what Francesca Gino, researcher at the Harvard Business School, and others have done in a recent study of restaurant managers. They examined 130 franchises of a large US-based pizza delivery company and assessed how extroverted each managers was. They then collected data on profitability and found some shocking results.

So did extroversion correlate with good, profitable leaders? It depends.

The research revealed that it depends on the proactive nature of the followers. In stores where few followers offered proactive ideas, extroverted leaders saw a 16% increase in profits. However, in stores where the followers WERE proactive about running operations, extroverted leaders saw a 14% DECREASE in profits.

So where does this leave our conventional wisdom?

Often we promote the idea that extroverts are the leaders and that proactive people are the best employees. It appears that what really matters is the combination of the two. Loud, extroverted leaders may clash heads and damage the productivity of proactive followers. Similarly, soft spoken leaders may have a style of leading that draws the most out of proactive employees.

What if I’m an introverted leader?

Look at your people. Likely you’ve already built a team of proactive, creative people who were drawn to your leadership because you seem to bring out the best in them. If not, then you may have found the reason for a lot of strife in your leadership role. You may consider going against your inclinations and learning to be extroverted, but that may require even more effort than hiring a whole new team. If you must work with what you got (I suspect that may be the majority of the readership) then most effective option may well be to develop a proactive attitude among the people you lead. Step back and force them into position where they have to make their decision, start seeking collaboration and acknowledging the contributions of each individuals.

If that doesn’t work, you might consider taking a more extroverted approach to the job market.

David Burkus is the editor of LeaderLab, a community of resources dedicated to promoting the practice of leadership theory. He is an executive coach, a sought-after speaker and an adjunct professor of business at several universities. David focuses on developing leaders putting leadership and organizational theory into practice.

David is a graduate of Oral Roberts University and holds a Master of Arts in Organizational Dynamics from the University of Oklahoma. David is currently pursuing a Doctorate of Strategic Leadership from Regent University. David lives with his wife Janna in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  For more infomration, visit David’s site at davidburkus.com


5 thoughts on “Quiet People Rarely Lead

  1. You’re on to something. Luckily for our purposes, the researchers didn’t define introvert and extrovert, but asked participants to rate their boss on an extroversion scale. So when we say introverted, we don’t mean someone who sits back and does nothing, we mean someone who’s behaviors aren’t necessarily loud and outgoing. Still, the bottom line is that we need to consider who a person will be leading before putting them in a particular leadership role.

  2. Scrum Mistress:

    Thank you so much for taking the time to visit my blog and join the conversation with David and I. I think you hit the nail on the head here…if you are so introverted that decisions are not being made and conflict not being resolved, then you are not being a leader. However, if you are such an extrovert that it crosses over to dictator/micro-manager and crushes the collaboration and proactive team members then you have gone to far.

    I think David said it well when he speaks of getting people in their right position and ‘forcing’ that collaboration. I feel if you a strong leader who is setting the vision, resolving conflict, etc then your proactive, experts will understand when you step back and let them run with aspects of the project.

    Thank you so much for your comment!

  3. Maybe the ambiguity of the terms introvert/extrovert/leader lead to the rather ambiguous conclusion of “it depends”.

    If someone is so introverted that there poor communication and lack of direction then someone ambitious and proactive under that person will take ownership of the problem. IE they do the leader’s job. And become the leader.

    It is possible to have a leader who steps back and lets people be proactive. And quite successfully. They communicate their plans or requirements effectively and let capable people get on with it the execution. That communication needs an extrovert personality to be effective.

    If extrovert means micromanaging or my-way-or-the-highway, then I would question the term leadership being applied in that situation. That person is not a leader. They dictate and cause resistance and resentment among those they are trying to lead. Leadership is a more subtle game.

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