Introvert or Extravert: Who Should Lead Your Team?

Last Updated Oct 12, 2010 11:18 AM EDT

You might think that extraverts make better team leaders than introverts, but the reality is that it depends on the personality makeup of the team.

Got a team full of people needing a lot of air time to voice their opinions? Choose an introvert like Abe Lincoln to lead them. But if your group is subdued, Rahm Emanuel is probably your guy to get them engaged.

Research from Harvard Business School's Francesca Gino and colleagues concludes the following:

  • Extraverted leaders can be a liability if the followers are extroverts, tending not to be receptive to employees who make suggestions and take initiative.
  • Introverted leaders are more likely to listen to, process, and implement the ideas of an eager team.
  • Leaders need to adapt their style depending on the type of group they are leading. With proactive employees, leaders need to be receptive to the team's ideas; with a more passive team leaders need to act more demonstratively and set a clear direction.
The researchers note that organizations need both types of leaders to succeed, but, unfortunately, it's the extraverts who rise up the ranks more often. But this can be fixed.
"By fostering a work environment where people feel free to speak up and be proactive, the organization is creating the right place for introverted leaders to be successful," Gino tells HBS Working Knowledge.
When I've chosen people to lead teams, the personality of both the lead and team members is certainly a consideration. But I've never thought in terms of getting the right balance between assertive and quiet. Makes sense, especially if you've seen how a team with a bunch of Type As works (or doesn't).

What do you think?

(Image by Flickr user JMRosenfeld, CC 2.0)

  • Sean Silverthorne

    Sean Silverthorne is the editor of HBS Working Knowledge, which provides a first look at the research and ideas of Harvard Business School faculty. Working Knowledge, which won a Webby award in 2007, currently records 4 million unique visitors a year. He has been with HBS since 2001.

    Silverthorne has 28 years experience in print and online journalism. Before arriving at HBS, he was a senior editor at CNET and executive editor of ZDNET News. While at At Ziff-Davis, Silverthorne also worked on the daily technology TV show The Site, and was a senior editor at PC Week Inside, which chronicled the business of the technology industry. He has held several reporting and editing roles on a variety of newspapers, and was Investor Business Daily's first journalist based in Silicon Valley.