When most people think of great leaders they imagine someone who motivates a crowd, inspires a team and leads with charisma. Is it necessary, however, for great leaders to be extroverts?
Margaret Thatcher, Steve Jobs, Bill Clinton, Winston Churchill and George W. Bush — All of these individuals are world-renowned leaders.
They are extroverts.
Gandhi, Joe DiMaggio, Moses, Warren Buffett and Mother Teresa — These individuals are also widely known world leaders.
They are introverts.
What is going on here?
Two lists of leaders.
Some are classic extroverts — outgoing, charming, funny, good with people.
Others are textbook introverts — contemplative, thinkers, analyzers, introspective.
Does one group lead better than the other?
The answer is more complicated than you might think.
At first glance, extroverts win.
They are energized by time with others, they take risks, boost positive attitudes, inspire others and maintain a high level of energy and passion.
Introverts, on the other hand, can appear aloof, quiet and disconnected.
They require time alone to recharge from time with others.
They take longer to make decisions and often lead from behind the scenes.
Susan Cain, author of “QUIET: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” gave a powerful TED talk on the secret power of introversion.
TED, which stands for technology, entertainment and design, began in 1984 as a “nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks,” according to their website.
Cain mentioned that early in America’s colonial history, leaders were recognized for their character but the people-centered Industrial Era shifted the focus from character to personality.
From the early 20th century to today, extroverts have been favored as leaders in American culture.
Colonial leaders such as Patrick Henry, the powerful speaker famous for “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death,” Samuel Adams, Sons of Liberty leader who orchestrated the Boston Tea Party, and even America’s first president George Washington – all of these men displayed strong extrovert tendencies.
In reality, both introverts and extroverts have the potential to be extraordinary, it just depends on the environment.
Extroverts can lead introverts well by empowering them, encouraging their work and showing pleasure.
Conversely, introverts often lead extroverts well.
Their quiet, unassuming demeanor allows the extroverts to safely practice creativity and brainstorm without having to compete with their boss for attention.
Growing up I believed that leaders were always extroverted.
I would look at a group of friends and find that the person with the most confidence, charm and humor won the attention and respect from the group.
Prior to college, I always considered myself as an extrovert.
Many of my friends were extroverts and I enjoyed being around them, feeding off their constant energy.
After beginning freshman year I quickly realized that unlike others I was not “charged up” in large social settings and often needed time to unwind.
I always gravitated to one-on-one conversations with friends rather than rambunctious hangouts with a large group.
I enjoyed groups but needed alone time to recharge afterward.
This revelation entirely changed my approach to college, new experiences and life itself.
Extroversion certainly has its merits but the analytical, intuitive, empathetic powers of the introvert are often fertile ground for leadership.
John C. Maxwell, well-known American speaker and pastor, has authored over 60 books mainly discussing leadership.
In the words of Maxwell, “Leaders must be close enough to relate to others but far enough away to motivate them.”
Whether you are a bubbly extrovert or a contemplative introvert you can have tremendous influence through leadership in your chosen field.