Does your workforce need an introverted leader: Part II

In my last post I talked about a study that displayed the benefit for extroverted followers to work with introverted leaders and vice versa. Introverted leaders are better listeners; they leave it up to their extroverted followers to execute initiatives. But, how do you get introverts to move up the company ladder when they are less likely to promote themselves?

The main reason why introverts have this issue in a firm is because most people think that to be a good leader one has to be assertive, prove they are better than others and possess the ability to dominate and rise up. It is a tough situation when introverts are surrounded by extroverted coworkers who are more likely to get promoted as they actively put themselves in the spotlight. Can you influence and encourage introverts to take up leadership positions?

The second study by HBS professors Grant, Gino and Hofmann, explored this dynamic and claimed, “there are ways to influence the likelihood that leaders will act introverted or extroverted.” The second study consisted of 163 college students participating in a T-shirt folding competition. The students were divided into 56 groups, all of whom were asked to fold as many T-shirts as possible in 10 minutes. The most productive groups were rewarded with iPods.

The groups were created and included one leader, three followers and two research assistants or “confederates” who pretended to be followers. Some of the confederates were asked to approach the team leader after a minute and a half into the session and say they have a Japanese friend who has a faster way of folding T-shirts, and suggest to the team to try the new method. The aim of the suggestion was to see how introverted and extroverted leaders would react to it.

In order to establish a control for whether the leaders managed their teams in an introverted or extroverted manner, half the researchers were told to read statement 1 and the other half read statement 2 before the activity started. Each of the statements came with a list of supporting academic studies to back it up. Below are the two statements:

Statement 1: “Scientific research now shows that behaving in an extroverted manner is the key to success as a leader. Like John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Jack Welch, great leaders are extroverted: their behavior is bold, talkative, energetic, active, assertive, and adventurous. This enables them to communicate a strong, dominant vision that inspires followers to deliver results.”
Statement 2: Scientific research now shows that behaving in an introverted manner is the key to success as a leader. Like Mahatma Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, and Socrates, great leaders are introverted: their behavior is quiet, shy, reserved, and unadventurous. This enables them to empower their people to deliver results.”
Interestingly, the statements served their purposes. The leadership style in the groups was influenced by the type of statement the team leaders read. Those who read statement 2 (i.e., how introverts can be great leaders) were more likely to be receptive of the Japanese folding method suggested by one of the followers (i.e., “confederates”). This finding was similar to the pizzeria study I wrote about last week, where the groups with introverted leaders and extroverted followers were more productive than those with extroverted leaders and extroverted followers.

This study shows that it is possible for employers and management teams to influence introverted employees and make them feel confident and comfortable about their introversion. For an expansion stage or start-up company, this also shows that focusing on your introverted employees’ other qualities and encouraging them, while comforting them about their strengths, can help create a better work environment for introverts in your company as well as foster employee retention.

Faria Rahman
Faria Rahman

Faria Rahman is the Co-Founder of Treemarc which, uses machine learning to make it easy for businesses to order custom packaging and product nesting in a few minutes. Previously, she was a Senior Associate at Northbridge Financial Corporation, a leading commercial property and casualty insurance management company offering a wide range of innovative solutions to Canadian businesses. Faria also worked at OpenView from 2010 to 2011 where she was part of the Market Research team.
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