Do Extroverts Make the Best Leaders?


LEON AYO, President of the British Chamber of Business in Southern Africa
Date: 11 December 2019

There has been much debate of late in academic and business management circles about the best personality type for leadership: extroversion or introversion. Traditionally, extroverts have been considered the most successful leaders. However, current thinking is that introverts can be just as competent as extroverts in leadership roles. In fact, some of the world’s top business leaders are introverts – think Bill Gates, Larry Page, Steve Wozniak, Katharine Graham, Warren Buffett and our very own Nelson Mandela. The answer may lie in diversifying management and leadership teams and harnessing the strengths of both personality types to the benefit of the organisation.


We should however move away from the stereotype that all introverts are shy people who prefer to be alone and struggle to communicate with others. Not all introverts are shy, just as not all extroverts are outgoing and talkative. Psychologists believe we all fall somewhere on a continuum, with personality types called ‘ambiverts’ in the middle – people who relish solitude but also enjoy social interaction.


What does this mean for leadership? Leon Ayo – President of the British Chamber of Business says that introvert and extrovert personality traits are not a metric for leadership success or failure. He explains that communication style is far more important a trait for good leaders. To be a competent leader, you need to be able to communicate effectively. And in this regard, there are lessons both introverts and extroverts can learn from each other:

  • Introverts tend to have excellent listening skills but may find it hard to compete in group situations when it comes to getting their ideas across. Introverts are often very strong strategically as they spend more time deliberating over the issues at hand and formulating a way forward. They are often well-read as this is how they prefer to spend their time and are therefore also often incredibly knowledgeable on different subjects which may keep them abreast of trends in their industries and in a position to recommend a way forward that keeps the company ahead of it’s competitors. They may however need to work on their communication skills and become situational extroverts in order to share their value effectively.
  • Extroverts often need to slow down and consider the clarity of their communication before speaking. They are however very often great speakers and can hold the attention of a room. They connect easily with others which makes them well-liked and easy to follow. Extroverts are more inclined to take risks than introverts are and when these risks pay off they benefit the organisation and its employees. A risk is a risk though and extroverts could learn from the intrinsic pondering over points which comes more easily to introverts. While introverts tend to read and research more thoroughly, extroverts find this difficult and often resort to asking experts within a particular field for insight rather than doing the research. Extroverts are not always great listeners though and could learn from introverts by honing their listening skills, and giving being open to receiving information from people in their teams.


For both introverts and extroverts, the value of executive coaching should not be underestimated. It can assist leaders to improve their performance through greater self-awareness and developing personal insight into their personality type and how it can impact leadership. Coaching is a great opportunity for executives to become more self-aware of their own strengths and weaknesses, and learn how they can remove barriers to better performance.


It is usually an organisation’s leaders who select its top executives, and if they are extroverts, they may be more comfortable choosing personality types they are familiar with – other extroverts. But having both introverts and extroverts on an executive team can strengthen its diversity. There is no right or wrong when it comes to personality types – it’s about selecting team members with strengths that complement each other in such a way that that the vision and the mission of the organisation is implemented to ensure sustainable success.


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