Leaders Are Mindful of Their Extraversion Bias

In Westernized societies, we have quite the bias toward extraversion, and this can hurt organizations. My assistant (an introvert) and I (an extravert) recently had a conversation about extraversion bias we thought we’d share with you.

Extraversion and Leadership

DeAnne: It’s interesting to me how, during a session when you ask people about the qualities of a good leader, they typically only bring up extraverted qualities. During the session I was in, someone said you have to be an extravert in order to be a good leader. That’s not true, but it seems to be widely accepted as true.

Alan: Yes, we tend to speak very complimentarily about typically extraverted qualities, like “She really gets after it!” and “He’s so charismatic.” Even outside of work situations, it’s common to hear people say of leaders, “He’s a man of action!” and “She lights up a room!'”

DeAnne: Exactly. The extravert mindset is so deeply ingrained that people don’t even realize what they’re saying and how biased toward extraversion it is. Introverts can “really get after it” too. It might take a bit more time and look different, but introverts get stuff done. We’re just quieter about it.

“Helping” introverts to be more extraverted

Alan: One thing extraverts tend to do is “help” introverts be more extraverted.

DeAnne: Oh…yeah. That’s really bothersome.

Alan: And we genuinely want to be helpful. Encouraging introverts by saying stuff like, “Don’t be so shy! You’ve got a lot to offer!”

DeAnne: Or telling an introvert they need to speak up more. Or one I find specifically annoying, which is “You know, you should really come out of your shell.” Imagine telling an extravert they need to get back into their shell.

Alan: (laughs) I think the way we talk to and about introverts and extraverts is proof that we are biased against the introvert and toward the extravert. Subtly or not-so-subtly telling introverts that something is wrong with them because they’re introverted is socially acceptable. But the opposite is not.

DeAnne: I shared this meme I saw on Facebook a couple of years ago that essentially says the same thing. Sometimes I’d really like to tell extraverts to chill out, be quiet, and listen.

DeAnne: I understand that extraverts are trying to be helpful when they encourage introverts to speak out and be more outgoing. But, honestly, it’s not helpful. In fact, it lowers our self-esteem and brings out our insecurities.

Introverts have a lot to offer

Alan: And yet, when we think and talk seriously about characteristics of people who are introverted, what do we usually say? It’s stuff like,

  • She doesn’t talk much, but when she does, it’s gold.
  • His decisions are always so well-thought out. I should be more deliberate like that.
  • They rarely get themselves into trouble because they think before they speak.

DeAnne: Sometimes, it just takes a while for us to process information and look at it from various angles before we say anything. We don’t like throwing stuff at the wall and seeing what sticks. Like you said, we want to be deliberate about what we say and do.

One of Alan’s teaching career regrets

Alan: When I was a band teacher, I was constantly trying to push introverted and shy students to be more gregarious. I thought it would be good for them to expand their comfort zone.

DeAnne: Pushing a little isn’t a bad thing. We all need to grow.

Alan: Yes, but while there is truth to that—it’s good for all of us to become more comfortable in diverse situations—I failed to acknowledge that I would benefit from becoming more reserved myself. When I let others speak first, and longer, and I just listen and think for a while about what I’m seeing and hearing, my decisions and next words are usually better.

DeAnne: Really stepping back with your mouth closed is, in my opinion, the trademark of a good communicator. And, if you’re willing to be fully present with an introvert and do nothing but listen to understand, most of the time, we’ll end up talking more.

Introvert or shy?

DeAnne: You did make a distinction earlier that I think is very important: Being introverted and being shy are not the same thing.

Alan: I think that concept can be difficult for extraverts, because to us, it looks the same on the outside. But you’re right: the words “introverted” and “shy” are often used interchangeably.

DeAnne: Right. Introversion and shyness are very different, and, for the most part, unrelated. It may seem counterintuitive, but extraverts can be shy. And, not all introverts are shy. For example, I’m an introvert, but I’m not shy. My son, however, is both introverted and shy.

Alan: Shyness and introversion are similar in that they are both related to social situations. The differences, though, happen more internally. Introversion is a personality trait that describes how people gain and release energy.

DeAnne: I like to describe it terms of bank deposits and withdrawals. For an introvert, deposits are made during alone time, and withdrawals are made during social time. Once your account is empty, you’ll have to make more deposits.

Alan: And extraverts are the opposite. They gain energy through social interaction and drain energy with less social interaction. It is important to note, though, that everyone can benefit from alone time.

DeAnne: Absolutely. But shyness doesn’t have anything to do with energy. Instead, it’s more related to social anxiety. Whereas introverts get emotionally drained from social interaction, people who are shy fear social interaction.

Alan: It can be a stretch sometimes, but introverts can and do socialize without anxiety.

DeAnne: Right. It’s just that socializing can be exhausting.

Alan: Basically, shyness and social anxiety are opportunities for growth, and introversion is one of the five scientifically attributed personality traits.

DeAnne: I think introverts everywhere would love for extraverts to have this information. Because not understanding the difference is in itself an extraversion bias.

Because of this societal bias, leaders tend to act in an extraverted fashion.

What if we leaned in to our more reserved side? Or if we found ways to make it safe for us to pause during meetings or conversations for all parties to reflect? What do you think?

Thanks for reading,

Alan Feirer

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