Introverts, extroverts equal in Wharton prof's leadership study

· November 11, 2010, 1:58 am   ·  Updated November 11, 2010, 12:00 am

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Most people wouldn’t dispute the notion that the most effective leaders are often the most outgoing.

Yet, a new study conducted by Wharton professor Adam Grant along with Francesca Gino of Harvard Business School and David Hofmann of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, shows that introverted leaders can be just as effective as extroverted leaders.

The project was of personal interest to Grant, who had observed situations in which an introverted team leader was more successful than an extroverted leader.

“The basic idea was that there is a lot of research showing that extroverted people are more likely to get promoted to leadership roles and be viewed by followers and superiors as more effective leaders,” he said.

Their aim was to examine whether introverted leaders could thrive under certain circumstances.

The study, conducted over a span of more than two years, incorporated two methods. The first analyzed the success of individual businesses within a national pizza delivery chain. Store leaders were asked to label themselves as either introverted or extroverted. The employees were asked to do the same, but to label their collective performance.

Grant described the working definition of introversion and extroversion used in the experiment as being more akin to the contemporary meaning rather than the classical biological definition.

“From a leadership standpoint, we look at leaders who act extroverted as those who command the center of attention, and more introverted leaders as being more likely to be quiet and reserved, and more comfortable in the background,” he said.

The results, which factored in such variables as location and regional prices, showed that businesses with introverted leadership and extroverted employees fared just as well as businesses with extroverted leadership and introverted employees. Businesses with both extroverted leadership and employees, as well as those with both introverted leadership and employees, were not as profitable. Complementing each other’s leadership styles was key.

Their results were further confirmed in another study, in which teams of undergraduates competed under both proactive and passive leaders in folding T-shirts.

Michael Useem, a Wharton professor who studies leadership and governance, spoke to the validity of the study’s results.

He said some senior company managers or chief executive officers are not extroverted by nature.

“They tend to be less verbal, less prepared to quickly engage people in camaraderie, but because people have great confidence in their ideas and their character, they exercise a quiet but very powerful leadership over other people,” he said.

Though Useem has seen such effective leadership in action, he was still surprised by Grant’s research.

“I don’t know of previous studies that would have pointed to this particular conclusion, or the opposite for that matter, so Adam has pioneered new ground with this study,” he said.

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