There are a variety of tests and surveys you can take to learn about your personality traits and assess your strengths and weaknesses as they fit in the workplace. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, the DiSC Profile, and the Big Five are a few that come to mind.
These personality traits are more commonly associated with your personal life, but introversion and extroversion impact how you interact with everyone -- including your coworkers. In fact, identifying whether you're an introvert or an extrovert could help you be a better leader, too.
All leaders have their own distinctive styles and methods for motivating and empowering teams, and while none of them are right or wrong, some can be adjusted to make team work environments as productive and successful as possible. In this post, we'll dive into the exact differences between introverts and extroverts, and how they can solve common leadership challenges their personality types might face.
Introvert vs. Extrovert Definitions
Introverts are people who gain and recharge mental energy by being in quieter, less stimulating environments. Extroverts are the opposite: They gain and recharge their energy by being around other people in more stimulating environments.
Quiet Revolution co-founder and author Susan Cain says introverts "listen more than they talk, think before they speak, and often feel as if they express themselves better in writing than in conversation." She described the difference between introversion and extroversion using an example: After spending three hours at a friend's birthday party, would you be more inclined to go home for the night and decompress, or keep the party going? The science behind the difference between introverts and extroverts lies in our nervous systems. One big difference has to do with dopamine, a neurotransmitter that induces reward-seeking behavior. When dopamine production increases in your brain, both introverts and extroverts become more talkative and more alert to people in their surroundings. And as it turns out, dopamine is more active in the brains of extroverts. For introverts, acetylcholine is the preferred neurotransmitter -- one that gives people pleasure when they reflect inward and take a lot of time to think deeply or focus intensely on just one thing.
So, introverts aren't necessarily shy, and extroverts aren't necessarily party animals -- the different types simply derive more pleasure from different levels of external stimuli. (And it's important to note that there's a spectrum of introversion and extroversion, and it's possible to be an ambivert -- a person who has habits and tendencies of both introverts and extroverts.)
Challenges can arise in the workplace because individuals with extroverted tendencies -- such as a willingness to speak up -- might be promoted first or get more attention from executives -- especially in fast-paced business environments. But there are challenges that can come up when introverts are leaders, too.
How Introverted Leaders Can Improve
I asked Cain about her thoughts on how introversion can hinder leaders at this year's Simmons Leadership Conference. "For introverted leaders, the temptation is to keep their heads down and focused; the challenge can be to interact with their teams as frequently and enthusiastically as their team members would like."
Introverted leaders should determine effective ways to interact and communicate with their team members that are comfortable for both introverts and extroverts. Some suggestions include:
Schedule weekly 1:1 meetings with team members so you can prepare in advance for giving feedback and discussing work.
Host "Office Hours" for team members who want to chat in person outside of regularly scheduled meetings.
Overcommunicate instructions and contextual information you might not share as openly in a team meeting.
Use communication and team collaboration tools -- like Slack, Asana, and Trello -- to keep avenues of communication about ongoing projects and initiatives open without having to hold a meeting.
Schedule meetings with a clear agenda for all team members invited.
Encourage team members (and yourself) to prepare for team meetings in advance so everyone can contribute to the discussion. Introverts might need more time to read, write, and prepare notes for a meeting to feel empowered to speak on the fly, so encourage your team to read any pre-meeting materials and set aside time to prepare.
Determine how different team members like to give and receive feedback -- and whether it's in person or via email, challenge yourself to tailor your feedback to its recipient.
Explicitly communicate praise, either in person or via email, so team members feel appreciated. Where extroverts might prefer to be praised in a team meeting, introverts might prefer to receive praise in a 1:1 meeting.
How Extroverted Leaders Can Improve
Cain also reflected that extroverted leaders can encounter obstacles of their own. "For extroverted leaders, the challenge is to let other people contribute ideas," Cain says. "A study by Wharton professor Adam Grant found that introverted leaders of proactive teams produced better results than extroverted leaders did because they were more likely to encourage others’ input, while extroverted leaders were more apt to put their own stamp on things."
Extroverted leaders need to balance different personalities on their team to make sure they motivate and encourage their team to excel without being so enthusiastic that they shut others down. Some ideas include:
Host meetings that incorporate aspects that let both introverts and extroverts shine. For example, Amazon's Jeff Bezos starts all meetings with the group silently reading prep materials together for the first 20-30 minutes. Then, the meeting evolves into a discussion without a set agenda. These two pieces let both groups prepare in the manner most comfortable for them.
Rethink brainstorming. As it turns out, brainstorming alone can produce a greater quantity of good ideas than discussing in a group. Cain suggests a hybrid brainstorm wherein participants come up with ideas alone and come together in a meeting to share and improve upon them.
Keep meetings as small as possible so everyone feels comfortable speaking up.
Allow team members to prepare as much as possible. And if that's not possible, offer the opportunity to provide feedback and additional thoughts in a follow-up meeting or email.
Listen twice as much as you speak in meetings to avoid dominating the conversation.
Identify visibility opportunities for team members that work for their personality types.
Champion and advocate for more introverted employees who might not identify those opportunities as readily.
Challenge introverted employees to practice skills they're not as comfortable with in private settings. Encourage extroverted employees to practice those skills in a meeting or a more visible setting.
The most valuable leadership advice we can offer, whether you're an introvert or an extrovert, is to be honest about your leadership style. Don't be afraid to openly and transparently tell your team members about your personality traits. Tell them about your style, they'll tell you about theirs, and you can all work together to communicate and work effectively.