Shy, quiet and a born leader

Strong, silent types can make great leaders, too

Shy, quiet and a born leader

Getty Images

Take one look at Donald Trump, the bombastic chief executive officer of the Trump Organization—whose famous catchphrase, honed on his reality show The Apprentice, is “You’re fired!”—and a person might think that, in the field of business, only outgoing personality types can reach the top. Introverts (who tend to be a bit more quiet and observant) typically have a harder time rising through the ranks, but a new study shows that these strong, silent types can make great leaders, too. Introverts, it seems, are better at leading more extroverted workers.

In the study, to appear in the Academy of Management Journal, three U.S. professors looked at a national pizza delivery chain, surveying store managers and workers about their personality traits (descriptive terms like “bold,” “talkative,” “reserved,” and others were applied). Then they compared the results to each store’s profitability, finding that introverted store managers earned high profits when their team members were more proactive. Extroverted leaders did best with a more passive team. In a second study, they asked groups of college students to join in a T-shirt folding contest, observing whether leaders were receptive to a suggestion of how to fold faster. Those with a more introverted style were more likely to adopt the faster method.

“It’s good news for introverts,” says Francesca Gino, associate professor at Harvard Business School and one of the authors of the paper, since they “seem to do better than extroverted leaders when they’re dealing with followers that are more proactive.” Introverts, she says, are “more likely to listen to the ideas suggested, and more receptive to them.” It’s a lesson for all leaders, Gino adds, who can adjust management styles according to their team.

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.