We think of leaders as large, dominant figures, whirlwinds that control every room and crowd, know what to do and tell everyone to do it. To that, Susan Cain (Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking) has two responses: First, that this vision of leadership has a specific, specifically American, history; second, that it ain’t necessarily so.
Cain spends some number of pages tracing the “rise of the ‘mighty likeable fellow’” and assessing the “myth of charismatic leadership.” She sites a study by Adam Grant and another by Francesca Gino and David Hofman that indicate that there are circumstances when introverts perform better than extroverts as leaders. Grant found that “the correlation between extroversion and leadership was modest” and that others studies are “based on people’s perceptions of who made a good leader, as opposed to actual results.”
In short, “introverts are uniquely good at leading initiative-takers. Because of their inclination to listen to others and lack of interest in dominating social situations, introverts are more likely to hear and implement suggestions. Having benefited from the talents of their followers, they are then likely to motivate them to be even more proactive. Introverted leaders create a virtuous circle of proactivity” (pp. 56-7; Cain’s summary).
Gino and Hofman discovered that when the employees are “passive types who tended to to their job without exercising initiative,” then extroverts excelled. With workers “who active tried to improve work procedures,” introverts performed better. They drew the same conclusion as Grant: “Extroverts . . . can be so intent on putting their own stamp on events that they risk losing others’ good ideas along the way and allowing workers to lapse into passivity. ‘Often the leaders end up doing a lot of the talking,’ says Francesca Gino, ‘and not listening to any of the ideas that the followers are trying to provide.” Because of their ability to inspire, “extroverted leaders are better at getting results from more passive workers” (57). Because they remain low-profile, introverted leaders allow others to rise.
At times – not always but at times – the most leaderly thing for the extroverted leader to do is Back Off and Shut Up and Let Us Get A Word In Edgewise Already.