Thursday, December 02, 2010

Introvert vs. Extravert Leaders

Professors Francesca Gino, Adam M. Grant, and David A. Hofmann have conducted a thought-provoking new study about the role of extraverted vs. introverted leaders. The HBS Working Knowledge site has profiled their findings. Here is an excerpt:

A new study finds that extraverted leaders actually can be a liability for a company's performance, especially if the followers are extraverts, too. In short, new ideas can't blossom into profitable projects if everyone in the room is contributing ideas, and the leader is too busy being outgoing to listen to or act upon them.

An introverted leader, on the other hand, is more likely to listen to and process the ideas of an eager team. But if an introverted leader is managing a bunch of passive followers, then a staff meeting may start to resemble a Quaker meeting: lots of contemplation, but hardly any talk. To that end, a team of passive followers benefits from an extraverted leader.

The authors present interesting data from a study of managers and employees at a large national pizza delivery chain. Their work will be published in the Academy of Management Journal in 2011. I find the work fascinating, though I think one needs to consider whether the appropriateness of extraverted vs. introverted leaders may not only be dependent on the profile of the followers, but also on the external context of the firm as well as the firm's competitive strategy. For instance, if a start-up enters a highly relationship-oriented business, where the founder/CEO must be highly engaged in selling to potential new customers, it may be difficult to achieve high performance with an introverted leader, regardless of who the followers are. Simply sending an extraverted follower to close the deal with a key client may not be effective at all. Those situations may require the leader to make the sale. In sum, the study is fascinating, but I do wonder about the contextual factors that may impact the extent to which we can generalize the findings.

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