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Why it might be a good thing if your boss is an introvert

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Turns out that the most effective leader isn’t necessarily the one who’s the most outgoing, the most outspoken, the most assertive. 

Adam Grant, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, conducted a study at a national pizza chain with his colleagues to discover the connection between personality type and management style. They found that an introvert’s or extrovert’s success depended on conditions like how active or passive their employees were. 

Grant, who recently wrote “Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World,” joined host David Brancaccio to talk about the qualities of a good boss and the “introverted leadership advantage.” An edited transcript of their conversation is below:

Adam Grant: We got the store leaders to fill out a survey about where they fell on the spectrum from introverted (quiet, reflective) to extroverted (outgoing, assertive, gregarious). And then we tracked their store profits over multiple months, and we found on average there was no difference between the profitability of stores led by introverts and extroverts. Even after we controlled for a whole host of factors, like, “Are you located on a college campus?” for example.

David Brancaccio: OK, but what might account for that?

Grant: Well, it turns out that introverts and extroverts are effective in leadership roles under different conditions. So if you have really passive employees — people who are waiting for direction from above, they’re looking to be told what to do — extroverts are great at providing a vision and a strategy and energizing them to step up and contribute. And we found indeed that extroverts, when they had passive employees, their stores were about 16 percent more profitable than introverts’ stores. But what if you have proactive employees who take initiative to bring new ideas, to make suggestions, to come up with better ways of getting work done? Under those circumstances, we actually found that introverts brought in 14 percent higher profits. The logic is pretty simple, which is extroverts love to be in the center of attention. They like to command the room, and they often felt threatened when their proactive employees were bringing ideas to the table. And they tend to shut them down, which meant that those people were less motivated, and also they got fewer good ideas. Whereas the introverted leaders were very open; they were willing to listen. They took better suggestions, and they left their people feeling more valued. So there is such a thing as an introverted leadership advantage. 

Brancaccio: So if you want good ideas to percolate up from the bottom, a leader who is an introvert might be your person. 

Grant: Yeah, it’s amazing how true that is. And I think the advice to some of the extroverts would be: Shut up. I do think that there’s some truth to this. I think it’s not a coincidence that in the tech sector, where we’re more dependent on new ideas and innovation coming from anywhere in the organization, we’ve seen so many introverts rise to leadership roles — whether it’s Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Page, Bill Gates, Elon Musk. They listen a lot as opposed to always giving orders to people below. 

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