No, You Don't Need To Be Extraverted To Be A Great Leader
New research shows communication skill, not extraversion, is the key to being a great leader.
By Mark Travers, Ph.D. | March 31, 2022
For years, studies have shown that introverts are at a disadvantage compared to extroverts in terms of being viewed as leaders. A new study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology contradicts that notion — showing that communication, not extroversion, may be the most important driver of leadership perceptions.
"Yes, people with superior communication skills have a leadership advantage," says James Lemoine, Associate Professor of Organization and Human Resources at the University at Buffalo School of Management and co-author of the study. "But no, it's not extroversion that's important since extroverts aren't necessarily any better at interpersonal communication than introverts or ambiverts."
To better understand this phenomenon, the researchers recruited over 400 university undergraduates to take part in a group decision making study. They split participants into small groups and asked them to consider various initiatives being proposed by a fictitious company. Participants were asked to discuss the merits of each initiative with other members of their group.
After discussing the initiatives, participants rated each other on a measure of leadership potential (i.e., "To what extent did you rely on [participant name] for leadership?" 1 = not at all; 5 = to a great extent). Participants also filled out a scale measuring trait extroversion. Finally, the researchers videotaped the conversations so they could evaluate each member's communication skill.
The results showed that communication, not extroversion, was the key factor driving perceptions of leadership potential — and that extroverts weren't any better at communicating in the group setting than introverts. This, Lemoine believes, is a finding that all non-extroverts should be aware of.
"For years, introverts have read and been told they're at a disadvantage compared to extroverts in terms of being viewed as leaders and being promoted into leadership roles," says Lemoine. "This was troublesome because extroversion is not something that can be taught; it's a stable personality difference. But our research shows that it's communication skill, not extroversion, that is the important driver of leadership perceptions. That's important because communication skills can be learned, which means anyone can develop their communication skills to enhance their chances of being viewed as leadership material by others."
The authors make clear that the study is less about what makes for a good leader and more about who might be perceived as a leader.
"These are two separate things," says Lemoine. "We call them 'leadership effectiveness' and 'leadership emergence.' Factors that determine leadership emergence — things that make you look like a leader to others — often don't have anything to do with the factors that promote leadership effectiveness. For instance, tall men tend to get promoted disproportionately frequently into leadership roles, but neither height nor gender necessarily makes you a better leader."
For someone hiring for leadership roles, the importance of leadership effectiveness versus emergence comes into play even more.
"We should be hiring for factors that enhance leadership effectiveness, not for factors that just make people look like a leader," says Lemoine.
To sum up, the researchers suggest that communication skills can certainly enhance leader potential but being an extrovert is not as important.
"To the contrary, some research shows that introverts may have advantages in many leadership situations, such as when more deliberate and methodical paces are appropriate," concludes Lemoine.
A full interview with James Lemoine discussing this new research can be found here: Why you don't have to be an extrovert to be a good leader