When we think of a leader—a good leader—we usually imagine someone who is outspoken, outgoing and at times demanding. In other words, we associate a successful leader with having characteristics of an extrovert. This is a mistake.
I will admit, I believed in this misconception as well, until my boss recently told me she was an introvert. I was in disbelief; I told her it couldn’t be true. Why? Because, of the three other jobs I have worked in, she is the best supervisor I have ever had. Aside from the fact that she is incredibly nice and exceptionally funny (I’m talking laugh out loud funny), she has never given me that “intimidating vibe” that my other superiors have. I feel comfortable around her, I can share anything and everything with her, and most importantly, she pushes us to do our best but in the nicest way possible.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that she actually wasn’t an extrovert. I think the majority of us simplistically characterize extroverts as friendly and introverts as reserved. This is why when my boss told me she was an introvert, I immediately thought she was calling herself shy. But I have come to understand that there is so much more to both traits than that. Let me explain in terms of leadership: An extrovert’s main goal is to make their voice heard. An introvert’s main goal is to hear what others have to say. Extroverts love talking to people and being the voice of the team. Usually, they are the ultimate decision-makers. An introvert loves listening to people and their opinions, and makes decisions accordingly. Usually, they are the ultimate guide to making the final decision.
An extrovert likes to speak their mind. An introvert thinks things over before they speak. Like I previously mentioned, extroverts are outspoken. They will be up front and brutally honest with you, and at times, this is needed. An extrovert finds their straightforwardness to be the route to effective communication. Conversely, introverts take time to process their thoughts and words before they speak. They do not want to create arguments or quarrels, and look for a safer and more peaceful route of getting their point across. Doing this allows their subordinates to appreciate their superior’s softspokeness and is another route to effective communication.
An extrovert appears as blunt, gregarious and energized. An introvert appears as calm, cool and collected. Extroverts are basically what you would call “the life of the party”. They have an upbeat spirit that is often contagious. Their frankness and loudness can be mistaken for aggressiveness at times, which makes them seem intimidating. Ultimately, their persona is what drives the team. An introvert gives off a more “chill” vibe, which allows others to feel comfortable around them. This doesn’t mean that an introvert lets you get away with whatever you want. It means that they deal with situations in a calm, often humorous and peaceful manner. In other words, introverts also give off good vibes to their subordinates like extroverts do, but in a different manner.
An extrovert is well liked among others. An introvert is well known among others. Extroverts love to meet new people and network. When networking, they try to meet as many people as possible. This makes them well liked and approachable, which is an asset in networking. Introverts are more reserved and don’t feel comfortable connecting with everyone, but would rather take their time to make one or two meaningful connections and leave a lasting impression. This allows them to be well known, rather than well liked, which is an equally advantageous skill.
It is also to be noted that many of the world’s greatest leaders are or were introverts too, such as Barack Obama, Mark Zuckerberg, Abraham Lincoln and Gandhi.
Think of your own supervisor(s), do you think they show more extroverted or introverted characteristics? Do you agree with their leadership methods? Do they create meaningful and satisfying experiences for you? If I were to answer this myself, my answer would be: Introverted, yes, and definitely yes.
All in all, effective leadership is determined through an individual’s personality trait—the way they behave, react and handle situations exemplifies the kind of leader they truly are. I am not trying to put down those who are extroverts, but rather, I wanted to show that introverts are just as capable of being a successful leader as their extroverted counterparts—they just have different goals and methods.
Written by: Alia Athar – Leadership Development Facilitator, UTSC
Alia Athar is a 3rd year Mental Health Specialist student at the University of Toronto Scarborough campus. For the 2015-16 academic year, she serves as a Leadership Development Facilitator in the Department of Student Life. Alia is an avid tv-show watcher, she watches up to seven shows a week (yes, even amidst exam season!), with her favourites being Greys Anatomy, Flash, Arrow and How to Get Away with Murder. In the future, she hopes to become a social worker and one day travel the world. You can reach Alia at firstname.lastname@example.org.