Everyone Has the Capacity to Lead

One of the “perks” of flying tens of thousands of miles each year is the opportunity to peruse the in-flight magazine during the electronic hiatus during take-off and landing—an interesting outgrowth of carrying an E-reader and subsequent dearth of having any “paper” products to peruse. During my latest flight, I was drawn to an article summarizing a recent posting from the Harvard Business Review on “The Hidden Advantages of Quiet Bosses.” Preparing to take-off and looking forward to discovering some interesting insights, I found myself not only disappointed, but also upset with the stereotypical thinking this article reinforced.

In sum, the authors were making the point that extroverted bosses often don’t do a good job of working with empowered employees because they don’t want to compete with their subordinates’ ideas and insights. On the other hand, introverted mangers tend to do well with proactive employees because they are more open and receptive to their thoughts and contributions. Their advice: “soft-spoken leaders may get the most out of empowered employees—so save the outgoing talkative managers for teams that function best when they’re told what to do.”

Where do I start? As the leader of an organization, would you want the egomaniacal boss who rolls over employees that want to “be told what to do?” Or would you prefer the meek, mild manager who quietly orchestrates the well-meaning employees who can are capable of doing it on their own? As a proponent of leadership that values all styles and their role in effective team functioning, it is disheartening to see such superficial labels being applied to their styles.

To begin, a clear understanding of extroverted v. introverted leadership qualities is essential. While extroverted qualities are often associated with leadership it is because societal images of western leadership are dominated by masculine characteristics that align with extroverts: strong, commanding, engaging, outgoing, etc. While extroverts exude these qualities, the key distinction for extroverts is not their charisma; rather it is that they draw energy from engaging with a wide variety of people. Extroverts need the charge derived from a vast array of contacts and their team is one place they can meet this need.

Introverts, on the other hand, enjoy a depth of relationship not found in a wide number of associations; they prefer to deepen connections with a small and consistent group of people. Within that group, introverts can be as lively and “outgoing” as extroverts, the difference being that introverts usually open up only in the established group, while extroverts will exude those qualities in a variety of situations. While introverts are predisposed to listening and reflecting, they are also aware of those whose charisma commands attention without the substance to back it up.

With approximately 75 percent of the population falling in the extroverted side of the scale, one that ranges from extreme to moderate, it makes sense that more leaders would also be extroverted. Couple that with our hunger for masculine, go-out-and-conquer-at-all-costs leadership and extroverts are disproportionately represented in many traditional positions of authority. Even with all these extroverted leaders running around, I can’t believe most people on their teams see themselves as wanting “to be told what to do.”

The assertion that extroverts are so enamored with the sound of their own voice and quality of thinking that they have little room to engage others’ leaves us in a perilous position. While this belief has clearly dominated many esteemed institutions and given the current condition of Wall Street, corporate America and our political bodies, perhaps it is time to begin reassessing what quality extroverted leadership looks like. Can we find leaders who use their extroverted talents by leading teams that are encouraged to bring their best to the table, not to compete with the “leader,” rather to strengthen the product of the group? The catch is to replace the synonymous relationship between extroversion and egotism and change it to one that equates success with group effort and not the “lead” player.

By creating a new model of leadership that values the best each person has to offer—extrovert, introvert, thinking, feeling, etc., we open leadership up to the possibility and promise of allowing each person to make a valuable contribution to reaching the team’s goals. With this leadership approach, teams led by individuals with different talents and strengths look different, i.e., an introverted leader may ask a more extroverted team member to handle broad communications while he takes on other tasks, while an extroverted leader may be the spokesperson allowing others to develop the strategy, it doesn’t matter what “type” the leader is because each person is valued, fully engaged and there is an understanding that a full range of leadership talents are needed for the success of the whole. The role of the leader then becomes the identification and balancing of the team’s talents needed to achieve the goal.

Reinforcing the idea that those who speak loudly always deserve to lead will only move us further down the road to destruction—especially at the cost of denying those on their team a voice. Equally disconcerting is the assertion that only those who are introverted are capable of fully engaging a dynamic group. In both cases, these stereotypical approaches to leadership remove the possibility of fully embracing the leadership that is available from each team member and encouraging a robust and satisfying group dynamic. Success in the future will be based on two key elements: the full and valued participation of each person in achieving real world results and the development of their leadership skills during the process (which is the only true source of satisfaction and happiness). Extroverted and introverted leaders alike are capable of such leadership.

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