Can introverts be better bosses for extroverts?

Written by
Karl Moore

10 May 2016

10 May 2016 • by Karl Moore

Why do introverted bosses work?

In this article I want to talk about a key way that introverted managers can be better managers for their extroverted employees.

The distribution of introverts and extroverts is spread across the European population. About third of our employees will be extroverted to some degree, and another third classed as introverted. Thus for any manager, it is imperative to learn how to manage each of these groups a bit differently, not too much, but a bit.

In our research, where we have interviewed over 150 CEOs, more than 30% of senior executives are introverts. At the middle and first line manager the levels are closer to 50%. How our introverts manage has a very considerable impact on how effective our organizations can be.

Listening well is seen as one of the traditional strengths of introverts and compared to extroverts this is true. Introverts are much more apt to listen and think before jumping in with their thoughts. They like to think before they speak. Something your parents undoubtedly taught you!

But our research suggests that this strength of listening can be improved by adding some nuance to how introverts listen to extroverts in particular. With some fine-tuning, introverts have the potential to turn a considerable strength into a competitive advantage when it comes to managing extroverts.

Listening rather than talking

At the heart of what I am saying is that extroverts both like and need a greater emotional engagement from listeners when they talk. Whether it is when we are telling a story or a joke, presenting slides in a corporate board room or putting forward a new idea in a meeting, introverts need to respond to our extroverted energy to be an excellent listener.

Although introverts are very good listeners, they can sometimes tend toward what we extroverts feel are passive listeners. As an extrovert gets excited, all wound up with what they are talking about, they seek more active listening. When a listener sits there, like a “bump on a log”, as we extroverts would put it, not responding, not feeding our energy back to us, we feel frustrated and assume you are rejecting our ideas and us. I know you are not! Emphatically not. You are thinking about and analysing what we are saying, which is great. But if you want to be a better boss, be a more active listener, turn up the volume of your listening. 

When a fellow extrovert listens to me, they nod, they lean forward, they smile or frown, they may not agree but they are more fully engaged. You know what I mean, you have colleagues that act like this.  And at times you feel like they are overdoing it, and for you they very well may be. But we extroverts feed off the energy of an engaged audience, this sparks our energy and allows to perform at our best.   Not only is our energy and enthusiasm contagious, we, in our better moments can be inspiring. This quality is needed in our organizations, along with the introverted leaders who bring greater thought, analysis and insights in their better moments.

Beyond extroverts’ energy, this personality type can be very creative, although in a different way than their introverted counterparts.  Introverts tend to be most creative when they are off on their own and connecting random dots, or what appear to be random dots in their own minds. Extroverts, on the other hand, are often at their most creative when we are talking out our ideas with others. When I want to be creative I am more apt to go see a colleague and “kick around” some thoughts with them. Often many ideas emerge that are rejected, but a few excellent ones also come out of this process. Many a time, I will say after 15, 20 minutes of this kind of conversation; “thanks Dora, it was really useful to talk to you”, to which she will reply, “Karl, I didn’t say a word!” which is not entirely true, but amusing nevertheless and somewhat accurate.

The takeaway message is this: to be a better manager, introverts please build on one of your greatest strengths by learning to be more active, engaged listeners. Your extroverted colleagues will thank you.