Introverts and Extroverts: Different Management Styles

As the boss, your goal is to have all your employees operating at their peak level of energy, efficiency, and motivation—which can be a challenge when it comes to leading a team comprised of introverts and extroverts. How do you manage these contrasting personalities and work preferences? How do you draw out your introverts and get your extroverts to listen? What’s the best way to adapt your management style so that it works for everyone?

What the Experts Say
Until recently, personality types and human dynamics were not typically the topic of work conversations but that is changing, says Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. “We are now at a point in corporate culture where it has become socially acceptable to talk about this.” For good reason, she says. “Introversion and extroversion go to the heart of who a person is: how they work, how they live, and how they interact.” Attempting to understand this element of team diversity isn’t always straightforward. Francesca Gino, a professor at Harvard Business School, advises approaching the managerial challenge from a “mindset of understanding and curiosity.” Here’s how to create an environment that maximizes each of your colleagues’ strengths and temperaments and ensures that everyone’s needs are met.

Educate yourself
Extroverts and introverts take “dramatically different approaches to work and social processes,” says Cain. Understanding these preferences will help you become a keen observer of “the people who are part of your team and what drives them,” says Gino. Extroverts, for instance, tend to tackle their assigned work promptly; they’re quick, sometimes rash decision makers. They’re comfortable with risk-taking and multitasking. “On the other hand, introverts work more deliberately and slowly. They prefer to concentrate on a single task at a given time.” Extroverts gravitate toward groups and they tend to think out loud. “They are energized by social gatherings and shared ideas,” she says. In contrast, introverts typically dislike noise and big group settings—“they may enjoy business meetings and some parties, but after a moment they wish they were at home with some good books.”

Talk to your team
You don’t need to give everyone on your team a Myers-Briggs test to figure out who’s an extrovert or introvert because in most cases, “it’s pretty clear,” says Cain. That said, some introverts are not immediately identifiable “because they are practiced at acting like extroverts.” In other words, they appear sociable and outgoing at work, but as soon as they get home, they collapse on the couch from exhaustion. To get a handle on your colleagues’ preferences, you should “encourage frank and open conversations with people as individuals and as a team,” she says. Ask questions like: In your ideal workday, how many meetings do you attend? How do you like to get your work done? How do you recharge? Cain notes that some introverts might be reluctant to open up. If that’s the case she recommends providing your team with reading materials about the quiet power of introverts, pointing to high-profile, successful introverts, such as Beth Comstock, chief marketing officer at General Electric, or “identifying a leader in your organization who is an introvert and willing to talk about it publicly.” Talk to your team, too, about the ways in which personality differences drive performance. After all, says Gino, “a properly balanced team has the strengths and skills of both personality sets, whereas a team of too many extroverts can suffer from ego issues, while a team of too many introverts can be lacking a shared team dynamic.”

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First published on the Harvard Business Review by Rebecca Knight.

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