Introvert or Extrovert in leadership?


As a leader are you an introvert or an extrovert? If you are an extrovert you are probably boasting to yourself right now thanking your good fortune. Introverts have always had a bad reputation but that is only because extraversion is louder and in the 20th century it became the fad.

The terms “extraversion” and “introversion” were first introduced by Carl Gustav Jung in his book entitled Psychological Types first published in 1921. Later in 1963, the original developers of the personality inventory known as the Myers Briggs Type Indicator, Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter, Isabel Briggs Myers used the same terms to identify the E/I attitudes in MBTI. Their work was based on the behavioral work of CG Jung and their aim was to turn his theory into practical use.

Since the 1960’s, many individuals and mainly professionals have been labeled through the MBTI as mainly introverts or extroverts. As Carl Jung explained it, some people write with their right hand and some with their left hand, in the same way people are born with a natural tendency to being an introvert or an extrovert.

By definition an introvert is someone who prefers spending time alone. He is very self-reflective and a good listener. Introverts are not necessarily shy or anti-social as Susan Cain argues in her book “Quiet: the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking”. They simply prefer a less-stimulating environment. She focuses on the concept of the “extrovert ideal” that she believes started in the USA with the industrial revolution that created a new culture, a “culture of personality” where perception became more important than reality. Zosia Bielsky from “The Globe and Mail” (a Canadian newspaper) when she interviewed Cain described this phenomenon as the move from “morals to magnetism” which is the heart of the issue in today’s society, a society which seems to glorify the extroverts.

So what does this mean from a leadership perspective? Are leaders who are extroverts really better leaders? Human beings tend to mirror each other when they are part of a group and people are more likely to follow a charismatic leader than a quiet and thoughtful one. But this doesn’t mean that introverts should pack up and go home or never dream of being promoted to a leadership position, it just means that they need to work extra hard to break the ideal of the extrovert and assert their level of self-esteem.

Gender, geography, religion, culture, family, and our own sense of how we feel balanced play a big role in how introverted or extraverted we are. If we were to compare Western cultures to Eastern cultures, we can clearly see a strong tendency in the west to idealize extraversion vs. introversion in the east where it is the synonym of respect, wisdom and poise. Eastern cultures sow the seeds of introversion in early childhood by showing that they value a quiet child. For an introvert, it becomes increasingly difficult to find balance in a society that favors the extrovert. Growing up, some children might find it hard to understand themselves and accept that they don’t have to put themselves out there to be accepted. Some might grow up harnessing a lot of insecurities that will eventually show up in their leadership style.

For you as a leader it is very important to find your balance. Some people find balance by being with others, others by being alone. And some people, as psychological research done later in the 1960’s shows, achieve balance through a combination of time they spend with others and time they spend alone. These are called ambiverts. Ambiverts fall in the middle of the introvert-extrovert spectrum. As defined in the Workplace Big 5 behavioral assessment instrument, which is based on over 50 years of research and has undergone substantial validity and reliability testing, “ambiverts tend to shift easily from working with other people to working alone” finding being in either extreme of the spectrum for too long highly dissatisfying. They will need to compensate by replenishing their energy either by going out clubbing for instance or taking a long bath while listening to quiet music depending on whether they have been exposed to too much introversion or extraversion.

Research behind the Workplace Big Five instrument shows that there are out there as many introverts as there are extroverts and ambiverts. According to Carl Jung, “There are no pure introverts or extroverts – those people would be psychopaths.” Basically we are never all one thing. There could be some situations where we find peace in introversion and others where we feel comfortable enough and happy to bask in the spotlight. Where do you place yourself on the spectrum?

Whether you are an introvert, extrovert or ambivert, as a leader, the key is for you to lead from an authentic place; a place where you can be true to yourself and to others. If the culture in your organization values extroverts and they seem to be the ones getting promoted all the time because they are the loudest and they make themselves heard; the answer is not to become an extrovert but to find your true voice as an introvert. How can you shine in what you do best? How can you position yourself in the organization as the expert in your field while maintaining good relationship with others? As an introvert you might not be comfortable in group settings or big meetings but you can make your mark in one on one interaction. Find the formula that works best for you. Keep checking in with yourself, your level of stress and feelings of wellbeing and balance in certain situations should be your guide. Don’t fall victim of the label and allow others to categorize and marginalize you. You are in charge and when you are leading from an authentic place you will be charismatic in your own way and followers will want to mirror you.


About Rawan Albina

Rawan Albina is a successful self-made Executive and Leadership Coach who has coached more than 150 individuals from 60 different nationalities all over the Middle East; from middle management to chief executives. She is one of the eleven Professional Certified Coaches (PCC) in the Middle East today. She served for 10 years as a manager and leader with multinationals Tetra Pak and Nestlé. She is passionate about Personal Branding as it perfectly combines her marketing background and coaching expertise. Rawan had her career breakthrough as a coach, trainer and motivational speaker delivering diverse programs to market leaders in the MENA region in English, Arabic and French. She also mentors MBA students and is a registered mentor coach with the ICF. Rawan holds a Bachelor’s degree in Business and Economics and is a graduate of the prestigious Coaches Training Institute. Rawan is certified in the FIRO and WPB5 assessment tools. She is a proud member of the International Coach Federation (ICF) and the European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC).


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