When Introverts Make Bad Leaders (And What to Do About It)

Introverts make bad leaders when they are asked to motivate uninspired employees.

Consequently, they are better served when they are asked to lead initiatives for solving problems and developing intellectual property with like-minded individuals.

Researchers often miss the mark when attempting to describe the ineffectiveness of introverts becoming leaders. These pundits believe that social awkwardness is often a major factor for introverts not becoming effective leaders.

However, there is a school of thought that suggests that introverts would rather invest their time and energy where they have more control and independence over outcomes rather than attempting to influence individuals who may act contrary to the aims of an organization.

Is Being an Introvert a Bad Thing?

A study authored by O’Connor and Spark (2017) stated, “We found that what introverts think they will feel in a leadership position plays a powerful role in explaining why introverts struggle to emerge as leaders. When participants thought they would experience negative emotions (i.e., fear, worry or distress) these became strong psychological barriers to acting like a leader. Introverts were more likely to think they’d feel these negative emotions than extraverts” (para.7).

O’Connor and Spark further recommended that introverts could become effective leaders by:

  • Leading proactive teams where innovative ideas are shared.
  • Engaging in Servant Leadership where introverts can foster higher performance in others.
  • Adopting more extroverted behavior.

Therein lies the problem. When introverts don’t naturally gravitate towards traditional leadership roles, it is often recommended that they assume more extroverted behavior.

If the Coronavirus of 2020 has shown anything, it has proven the power of effective performance in remote environments, which play to the strengths of introverts.

When Introverts Make Bad Leaders

Garton and Mankins (2020) postulated that the companies that have thrived during the pandemic were already successful before the pandemic because they had certain infrastructures in place. Taken from their book, Time, Talent, Energy: Overcome Organizational Drag and Unleash Your Team’s Productive Power, Garton and Mankins articulated the three factors demonstrated by productive organizations, which are:

  • The time each employee has to dedicate to productive work each day, without distraction from excessive e-communications, unnecessary meetings, or bureaucratic processes and procedures;
  • The talent that each worker can bring to their job and, importantly, how an organization’s best talent is deployed, teamed and led; and
  • The discretionary energy each employee is willing to invest in their work and dedicate to the success of the company, its customers and other stakeholders.

Although Garton and Mankins did not explicitly state that these organizations had introverts in mind, such environments do allow introverts to lead in ways that would be beneficial to organizations.

Strategic thinking introverts who are problem solvers thrive in environments where deep analysis is necessary, and effective results are required.

Responses such as the following are typical when dissimilar personalities are brought together to accomplish goals that introverts are often better qualified to handle.

“I am going to be a little late with my part of the plan.”

“There was a question I had that I wanted to discuss with you.” (Issue raised close to the deadline that should have been asked earlier).

“I talked with Steve (manager) and he said that wasn’t important.”

Instead of trying to fit in and deal with mediocrity, introverts would rather go at it alone.

Bragagnolo (2017) said, “Introverts excel when they are given ample time to dive deep into their thoughts. Because much of their best work requires deep thinking, they can find it frustrating to be constantly interrupted or pulled out of their concentration. An open concept office might be a difficult work space. If you identify as an introvert and are having trouble focusing, try speaking with your boss about a work around. If remote work isn’t an option, work out a signal with your team to let them know you’re in “do not disturb” mode” (para. 5).

But, isn’t effective leadership about aligning diverse personalities and backgrounds in one direction?

The answer is “yes” and “no.”

Yes, effective leadership aligns diverse backgrounds. There can be dissimilarity in education, experience, and viewpoints.

However, “no” to dissimilar personalities. If a group of introverts have introspection, less need for micromanagement, and goal orientation in common, they generally have high levels of self-governing skills.

In short, they are all self-directed leaders. Any designated leader within this group is merely there administratively.

Such groups may still experience disagreements, but these personalities tend to wrestle with evidence-based solutions rather than mere opinions based on negligible research.

So, why don’t organizations use these high producers more strategically?

After all, don’t employees serve at the pleasure of the organization?

Unfortunately, many organizations don’t embrace the idea of placing highly productive people in the same space. Whether the concern is human resources related or mere attempts at forcing dissimilar individuals to coexist, laggards are allowed to intermingle with high achievers.

In some instances, instead of rooting out underperformers, organizations merely add more responsibilities to high performers.

What can be done about such irrationality?

Recruiting Introverted Leaders

Progressive and innovative executives can exercise greater control despite the size and complexity of organizations.

First, executives can create ad hoc committees for special projects.

Ad hoc committees could prove to be a boon for introverts, particularly when they are allowed to work and communicate remotely.

These committees are excellent for research and planning initiatives. Since many introverts tend to be voracious readers and problem solvers, cultivating these proclivities would align with the goals of the organization.

Secondly, encourage the committee to document and create user friendly methods and systems that allow less analytical personalities to enhance their performance.

Many organizations suffer in productivity and profitability simply because there are no operational processes germane to specific organizational sections or departments.

There are “microcultures” within organizations based on personalities that require spoken and unspoken rules.

A department filled with introverts requires different protocols than that of extroverts. 

Thirdly, members within the committee should be instrumental in selecting the team.

These individuals are aware of the personalities and work ethic of the employees around them.

Consequently, the old yarn of people support what they help create is true.

If members are going to be responsible and accountable for results, they should be able to choose the individuals who will facilitate the process.

Finally, software allows ad hoc committees to thrive remotely better than ever.

Collaboration software like Microsoft 365 and Slack allow groups to work efficiently and productively.

Microsoft 365 specifically allows employees to share and edit documents, as well as comprehensive messaging.

In the end, effective organizational development rests on the ability of executives to satisfy and nurture the basic needs of high achievers.

Introverts make bad leaders when they are set up to fail in environments that are contrary to their hardwiring. Effective organizational development in a rapidly changing world must embrace personality alignment.

To mix excellence and mediocrity in the same pot is a recipe for disaster.

—Lawrence Holder

References

Bragagnolo, C. (2017, Dec. 12). The best work environments if you’re introverted, extroverted, or both. Notable Life. Retrieved from: https://notablelife.com/the-best-work-environments-if-youre-introverted-extroverted-or-both.

Fern, N., McCaskill, S., and Turner, B. (2020, Nov. 4). Best online collaboration software of 2021: Paid and free tools for work sharing and communication. Techradar. Pro. Retrieved from: https://www.techradar.com/best/best-online-collaboration-tools.

Garton, E., and Mankins. M. (2020, Dec. 1). The pandemic is widening a corporate productivity gap. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from: https://hbr.org/2020/12/the-pandemic-is-widening-a-corporate-productivity-gap.

O’Connor, P., and Spark, A. (2017, Sept. 25). Introverts think they won’t like being leaders but they are capable. The Conversation. Retrieved from: https://theconversation.com/introverts-think-they-wont-like-being-leaders-but-they-are-capable-84371.

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