Intuitively, you might think that being an extrovert can make you better suited in the role of CEO. After all, extroverts have some natural traits that can aid them in this position. For example:
- Extroverts tend to make more contacts. Because they thrive on talking to other people and engaging with them regularly, extroverts are naturally better at making new contacts, and keeping their network of contacts robust. This can be valuable for hiring, finding investors, and even acquiring new clients.
- Extroverts are stereotypically more charismatic. In many cases, extroverts tend to carry more charisma; they seem more confident and more enthusiastic in social situations. This can be valuable when motivating a team, impressing a prospective investor, or even when breaking bad news to the press.
- Extroverts aren’t afraid of the spotlight. Introverts tend to shy away from the spotlight, while extroverts aren’t afraid to embrace it. This can make them seem more powerful as the public face of a company.
However, both introverts and extroverts are perfectly capable of building rapport, and introverts have some inherent advantages over extroverts that can make up for the advantages held by extroverts.
The Advantages of Introverts
It’s easy to picture every famous CEO, founder, or entrepreneur as an extrovert, probably because they spend so much time in the limelight. However, personalities tend to be split down the middle; there are plenty of examples of introverted CEOs who have become massively successful, including Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk, and Warren Buffett.
Part of this is due to the natural advantages introverts have over extroverts:
- Focus and dedication. Though not always true, introverts often spend more time on projects they’re passionate about and are able to commit more focus and dedication to heads-down work than to networking. This extra work can often pay off in spades, making up for any lost benefits from socializing.
- Introspection and analysis. Introverts stereotypically spend more time in their own heads, thinking through their approaches and evaluating things they’ve done in the past. This analytic mindset can be helpful when solving complex business-related problems, making them highly effective CEOs.
- Close relationships. While introverts may lack the wide networks that extroverts have, they tend to make up for it by keeping closer relationships with the people who are in their networks. This can be advantageous for a CEO, especially if they’re typically working in a tight-knit team environment.
Natural Preferences vs. Learned Skills
It’s also important to point out that many of the advantages of either group can easily be acquired by the other, and in multiple different ways.
For example, an introvert who doesn’t like to socialize or network with others may still be perfectly capable of doing so; they can mimic the strategies they see other people using, and practice those strategies, eventually mastering them like any other skill. If they don’t feel comfortable speaking in front of an audience, they can attend workshops and practice presenting in front of others until they’re able to present without nervousness or hesitation.
In addition, CEOs can compensate for their own strengths and weaknesses by leaning on the other members of their team. For example, if a CEO is introverted and doesn’t like to spend time networking or being in the public spotlight, they could have an official PR officer take over for them in some contexts, or a VP of Sales take care of most of the networking efforts. Similarly, an extroverted CEO might feel perfectly at home in public and socializing with others, relying on more introverted teammates to polish close in-team relationships.
Plus, there’s some evidence to suggest that introversion and extroversion are, at best, overinflated in importance, and at worst, completely misunderstood by the general public. Human beings are incredibly complex. Displaying traits of an introvert in some situations doesn’t mean you’re going to display those traits in every situation. For example, you might hate the idea of making small talk with strangers, but feel at home giving a public presentation.
While these sets of traits may be helpful in categorizing certain types of personal preferences and behavior, they can’t possibly be used to summarize the abilities of a human being. Therefore, they aren’t useful tools we can use to judge the relative effectiveness of an individual as CEO.
The Bottom Line
So which group is truly better suited as a CEO, extroverts or introverts? The big-picture answer here is that each group has distinct advantages and disadvantages when assuming the role of leader. Plus, most of those strengths and weaknesses can be balanced through skill and dedicated effort. What really makes an entrepreneur successful isn’t whether or not they’re introverted, but how they play to their strengths, and how much work they’re willing to invest.
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