By Diane Heart MACN ENL
A good leader is inspirational and transformative. They have good communication and problem-solving skills, paired with the ability to navigate a person or organisation to better ground.
The essential skills of a good leader are often associated with a person that identifies as extroverted. Extroverted people are confident in vocational skills and predominantly occupy leadership roles (Weinstein, 2017).
So, the question is do we need to be extroverted to be a good leader or can introverted people lead too? If so, what does each personal trait bring to the table and what challenges will they overcome to become a good leader?
As a society, we are analysed for our participation and judged on our contributions. This implies that to achieve career success we are required to obtain certain extroverted characteristics.
For example, in school, I can remember my mother apologising to the teacher because I was a little shy or the high school report noting lack of class participation for not putting a hand up in class. Perhaps many of you reading this experienced the same scrutiny, or even note yourself doing the same with your children.
Colley (2019) agree that we live in a society where introversion characteristics are unacceptable, which continues to affect the speed at which we professional development in the workplace. This is because introverted people become overshadowed by the more domineering extrovert and achieve less reward for the same contribution. Good leadership depends on good communication and demands introverts develop skills to advocacy for the self, the team and organization to compete in leadership roles.
Introverted people are thinkers. They are analytical and think things through before developing a plan. An extroverted person tends to fly with the wind and achieves good results despite sometimes acting first without an initial plan.
There has always been some negative bias towards introverts. For example, in 1980 the American Psychological Association proposed that a diagnostic category be included in the Diagnostic and Statical Manual of Mental Disorders (third edition) (DSM-III). This was not instigated, however the fifth addition in 2010 included introversion as a contributing factor in diagnosing certain personality types.
Other studies also suggested that the way people interact was a result of their cortical arousal level, speed and amount of brain activity. Hans Eysenck, a German-born British physiologist (1916 -1997) claimed that introverts had a lower cortical arousal level, and this is what contributes to slower stimulating brain activity (Wisser & Robert, 2019).
Inconceivable; Eysenck’s theory was that introversion was associated with mental health conditions. However, inspirationally some of the most influential pioneers in nurse history, such as Florence Nightingale identified on the Myers-Briggs scale as being introverted. Other leaders of the 20th century are leaders such as Bill Gates and Facebook founder CEO Mark Zuckerberg also identify as introverts.
Evidence suggests people that identify as introverts make better leaders and deliver better outcomes than their extroverted counterparts. This is because introverts learn by listening and create a culture of feeling and values that motivate proactive staff.
This is evident in the interesting read, Quiet by Cain (2012), which looks at the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking. The book and book review published in the March edition of the Hive magazine by Diane Heart also sparks renewed conversations about the strengths and talents of introverts in nurses and the strengths they bring to leadership roles.
Good leaders direct, support, coach and delegate. All nurses are leaders and do not need to take a leadership role to identify as a leader. In clinical practice good leadership is inspiring our peers by setting good evidence-based standards or advocating for patients to provide quality, safe patient care (Anderson et al, 2010).
So, what are the qualities of an extroverted leader? What obstacles do they have in leadership roles and how does this impact their leadership style?
An extroverted leader is charismatic, enthusiastic and energetic and thrives to express their opinions in meeting and social encounters.
Obstacles of an extroverted leader include attention-seeking and dominating conversations, because they tend to speak before they think. Most extroverts will admit to being easily distracted by outside stimuli and notice the more comfortable they are in a situation the more outspoken they become.
An overabundance of confidence is the biggest obstacles that stands in the way of an extroverted person and good leadership. Their lack of depth in thinking things through and abundance of confidence overshadow introverted team member participation.
So, what are the qualities of an introverted leader? What obstacles do they have in leadership roles and how does this impact their leadership style.
Carl Jung (1875 -1961) Jung described introverts as reflective and thoughtful thinkers. They shine best during reflection and take the time to learn before making a decision. The introverted leader are good listeners and can engage in thoughtful discussion. They are good at developing ideas and procedures to positively change business direction and empower employees.
Obstacles faced by the introverted leader include a struggle with verbal communication, confrontation and have difficulty with small talk and multitasking.
Introverts take time to think before speaking and this puts introverts at a disadvantage when faced with spontaneous decision making. Lack of good communication skills can impact their ability to engage and build a strong network. Their overall shyness and lack of confidence is easily overpowered.
Inevitable both personality types can be leaders. However, becoming a good leader begins with self-awareness to identifying obstacles and overcoming the challenges that inevitable allow one to grow and continue to perfect their style of leadership.
For the extrovert leader this may simply means becoming more conscious of over communication and make time to let others participate. Weinstein (2017) agree this encourage the extroverted leader to become more self-aware and promote the opportunity for others to ask questions and participate. The extrovert could also be conscious of environments that make them feel more confident and learn to take a step back in these situations. Ultimately self-awareness is the key to an extroverted good leader and the development of focused time to prevent outside distraction.
Saunderson (2017) agrees that introvert leaders need to play on their strengths and delegate more exhausting activates to more extroverted staff. It would help if they become familiar with meeting agendas and topics which may lead to confidence when individuals are asked to contribute. Introverts should develop their communication skills further by practicing small talk skills. For example, they can set goals to interact with a few individuals at a time which will make confrontation easier in meetings.
A key strategy for the introverted leader is outlined in leadership tips for Introverts. Vien (2016) conclude the best tips for introverts to get ahead is to get a good coach from an extroverted mentor that can teach them how to communicate and express themselves more clearly. This can help the introverted leader communicate through their preferred communication style to multidisciplinary teams and ensure their key contributions are noted and they are not overshadowed by their extroverted counterpart.
Both personality types have the key skills necessary to be a good leader. A good leader possesses not one or the other but an equal combination of both personalities. Wisser & Robert (2019) outlines the key qualities of good leadership are a combination of having good communication and listening skills to either advocate or empower others to be heard.
Identifying which personality characteristics, we possess is key to good leadership because it means we are self-aware and able to acknowledge the strengths and challenging weaknesses to become a stronger leader. Self-awareness is the key to self-development and leading others to master the skills to be the best version of themselves.
Cain, S. (2012). Quiet. Penguin Books
Colley, S. L. (2019). Voices of Quiet Students: Introverted Nursing Students’ Perceptions of Educational Experiences and Leadership Preparation. International Journal of Nursing Education Scholarship 15(1).
Saunderson, R. (2017). Why Introverts Also Make Great Leaders. Training 54(3):62–63.
Vien, C. L. (2016). Leadership Tips for Introverts. Journal of Accountancy 221(4):46–50.
Weinstein, M. (2017). Introvert Vs. Extrovert Leaders. Training 54(3):22–24.
Wisser, K. Z. & Robert L. M. (2019). Mastering Your Distinctive Strengths as an Introverted Nurse Leader. Nursing Administration Quarterly 43(2):123–29.
Anderson B, O’Connor P, Manon M, Gallagher E. (2010) Listening to nursing leaders using national database of nursing quality indicators data to study excellence in nursing leadership 40(4): 182-187.doi:10.1097/NNA.0b013e3181d40f65.