Why Introverted Leaders Are Ideal for the Post pandemic Workplace
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Why Introverted Leaders Are Ideal for the Post pandemic Workplace

As an extrovert, I hate to admit it, but charisma really doesn’t improve a firm’s performance

Mon, Jan 29, 2024 8:36amGrey Clock 3 min

Leigh Thompson is the J. Jay Gerber Professor of Dispute Resolution and Organizations and a director of executive-education programs at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. She is the author of several books, including “Negotiating the Sweet Spot: The Art of Leaving Nothing on the Table.”

I’m an extrovert and I admit I’ve benefited from it.

Outgoing people are more likely to be noticed, selected as leaders and awarded “halo” traits—meaning that other people just assume extroverts are more likeable, intelligent and have other positive qualities. But as a social scientist, I can’t ignore the research: Most of these beliefs about extroverts simply aren’t true.

Studies show that introverts and extroverts are equally effective in academic and corporate environments, and that there is no actual relation between CEO charisma and firm performance.

Yet the misconceptions about extroverts persist, making them more likely to be chosen as leaders over their more introverted peers. That’s unfortunate because in our post pandemic world, replete with remote work, hybrid communication, far-flung team members, artificial intelligence and global disruption, introverts are particularly well-equipped to lead.

That may be hard to believe because of two persistent myths.

First is the widely held stereotype that effective leaders are gregarious, alpha and comfortable in the spotlight, even craving that attention. In reality, the social skills that extroverts display aren’t necessarily predictive of capable leadership.

Second is the belief that quieter people lack leadership skills. They are seen as less social, unassertive, sad and disconnected. Indeed, in a recent study in which people in different groups were instructed to “act like an extrovert” or “act like an introvert” regardless of their actual personalities, those who acted extroverted were disproportionately selected for leadership. And, interestingly, those who pretended to be introverted in that study reported feeling sad.

Both of these myths ignore the reality that introversion, far from being simply a lack of extroversion, is a distinct set of traits with its own large merits. This was true well before the pandemic, but the remote-work environment illuminated the bias even more and highlighted the need to change our perceptions.

Here are five reasons why introverts could be ideal leaders in the redefined workplace.

1. Remote-work performance. Extroverts’ job performance declined when the pandemic forced many businesses to go remoteA study of remote workers found that extroverted employees became less productive, less engaged and less satisfied with their jobs. A separate study found that team average extroversion had a large negative effective on team performance—that is, the more extroverted the team members were as a group, the worse they performed.

2. Dealing with adversity and change. Introverts show a greater capacity to engage, think through and make wise choices during periods of adversity and change. A recent investigation found that introverts had more positive attitudes toward AI and using AI overall than did extroverts. A separate study found that during periods of high conflict, extroverts develop fewer energising relationships with their teammates and aren’t viewed as proactively contributing to the team. Introverts, however, often possess a predisposition for things like empathy and thoughtful communication—all critical for navigating team dynamics and conflict in tough times.

3. Creativity. Introverts’ creativity flows well in the quiet aftermath of group interactions, positioning them as formidable leaders for innovative and reflective tasks. In studies of communication and conflict, introverts’ tendency to think before speaking was seen to yield more creative solutions.

4. Avoiding avoidance. Most humans approach positive things and avoid negative things. Sounds like a good policy—unless we’re talking about workplace challenges. Research has shown that extroverts commit more passive avoidance errors—that is, when the going gets tough, they tend to avoid the situation altogether; meanwhile introverts are more likely to inspect the half-empty glass or the disappointing customer-satisfaction data, generating insights and solutions.

5. Resilience against quitting. A study of over 200 people revealed a correlation between extroversion and burnout—that is, the more extroverted a person reported themselves to be, the more likely they were to burn out. Introversion, on the other hand, was uncorrelated with burnout, suggesting better immunity.


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Great leaders have it. Gen Z has a new word for it. Can the rest of us learn it?

Charisma—or rizz , as current teenage slang has anointed it—can feel like an ephemeral gift some are just born with. The chosen among us network and chitchat, exuding warmth as they effortlessly hold court. Then there’s everyone else, agonising over exclamation points in email drafts and internally replaying that joke they made in the meeting, wondering if it hit.

“Well, this is awkward,” Mike Rizzo, the head of a community for marketing operations professionals, says of rizz being crowned 2023 word of the year by the publisher of the Oxford English Dictionary. It’s so close to his last name, but so far from how he sees himself. He sometimes gets sweaty palms before hosting webinars.

Who could blame us for obsessing over charisma, or lack thereof? It can lubricate social interactions, win us friends, and score promotions . It’s also possible to cultivate, assures Charles Duhigg, the author of a book about people he dubs super communicators.

At its heart, charisma isn’t about some grand performance. It’s a state we elicit in other people, Duhigg says. It’s about fostering connection and making our conversation partners feel they’re the charming—or interesting or funny—ones.

The key is to ask deeper, though not prying, questions that invite meaningful and revealing responses, Duhigg says. And match the other person’s vibes. Maybe they want to talk about emotions, the joy they felt watching their kid graduate from high school last weekend. Or maybe they’re just after straight-up logistics and want you to quickly tell them exactly how the team is going to turn around that presentation by tomorrow.

You might be hired into a company for your skill set, Duhigg says, but your ability to communicate and earn people’s trust propels you up the ladder: “That is leadership.”

Approachable and relatable

In reporting this column, I was surprised to hear many executives and professionals I find breezily confident and pleasantly chatty confess it wasn’t something that came naturally. They had to work on it.

Dave MacLennan , who served as chief executive of agricultural giant Cargill for nearly a decade, started by leaning into a nickname: DMac, first bestowed upon him in a C-suite meeting where half the executives were named Dave.

He liked the informality of it. The further he ascended up the corporate hierarchy, the more he strove to be approachable and relatable.

Employees “need a reason to follow you,” he says. “One of the reasons they’re going to follow you is that they feel they know you.”

He makes a point to remember the details and dates of people’s lives, such as colleagues’ birthdays. After making his acquaintance, in a meeting years ago at The Wall Street Journal’s offices, I was shocked to receive an email from his address months later. Subject line: You , a heading so compelling I still recall it. He went on to say he remembered I was due with my first child any day now and just wanted to say good luck.

“So many people say, ‘Oh, I don’t have a good memory for that,’” he says. Prioritise remembering, making notes on your phone if you need, he says.

Now a board member and an executive coach, MacLennan sent hundreds of handwritten notes during his tenure. He’d reach out to midlevel managers who’d just gotten a promotion, or engineers who showed him around meat-processing plants. He’d pen words of thanks or congratulations. And he’d address the envelopes himself.

“Your handwriting is a very personal thing about you,” he says. “Think about it. Twenty seconds. It makes such an impact.”

Everyone’s important

Doling out your charm selectively will backfire, says Carla Harris , a Morgan Stanley executive. She chats up the woman cleaning the office, the receptionist at her doctor’s, the guy waiting alongside her for the elevator.

“Don’t be confused,” she tells young bankers. Executive assistants are often the most powerful people in the building, and you never know how someone can help—or hurt—you down the line.

Harris once spent a year mentoring a junior worker in another department, not expecting anything in return. One day, Harris randomly mentioned she faced an uphill battle in meeting with a new client. Oh!, the 24-year-old said. Turns out, the client was her friend. She made the call right there, setting up Harris for a work win.

In the office, stop staring at your phone, Harris advises, and notice the people around you. Ask for their names. Push yourself to start a conversation with three random people every day.

Charisma for introverts

You can’t will yourself to be a bubbly extrovert, but you can find your own brand of charisma, says Vanessa Van Edwards, a communications trainer and author of a book about charismatic communication.

For introverted clients, she recommends using nonverbal cues. A slow triple nod shows people you’re listening. Placing your hands in the steeple position, together and facing up, denotes that you’re calm and present.

Try coming up with one question you’re known for. Not a canned, hokey ice-breaker, but something casual and simple that reflects your actual interests. One of her clients, a bookish executive struggling with uncomfortable, halting starts to his meetings, began kicking things off by asking “Reading anything good?”

Embracing your stumbles

Charisma starts with confidence. It’s not that captivating people don’t occasionally mispronounce a word or spill their coffee, says Henna Pryor, who wrote a book about embracing awkwardness at work. They just have a faster comeback rate than the rest of us. They call out the stumble instead of trying to hide it, make a small joke, and move on.

Being perfectly polished all the time is not only exhausting, it’s impossible. We know this, which is why appearing flawless can come off as fake. We like people who seem human, Pryor says.

Our most admired colleagues are often the ones who are good at their jobs and can laugh at themselves too, who occasionally trip or flub just like us.

“It creates this little moment of warmth,” she says, “that we actually find almost like a relief.”


This stylish family home combines a classic palette and finishes with a flexible floorplan

35 North Street Windsor

Just 55 minutes from Sydney, make this your creative getaway located in the majestic Hawkesbury region.

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