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Executive Coaching Insights - 5 Myths About Introverts and Extroverts

I read a great blog 5 Myths About Introverts and Extroverts by Adam Grant where he tackled some long established beliefs in the executive coaching field. I wanted to go deeper into the article and discuss the implications it has for outplacement, executive coaching and talent development. 

I have been a big follower of Susan Cain since I watched her TED talk and read her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking. Her groundbreaking world opened a lot of eyes and ears (including my own) to:

  • introversion is not a liability, a limited to one's career, networking or ability to build relationships
  • extroversion is not necessarily the ideal in order to be successful in business and life

Susan Cain has branched out and created Quiet Revolution, a "mission-based company working to unlock the power of introverts for the benefit of us all.We are dedicated to using our innovative online platform, services, and products to inspire all personality types to rethink what “quiet” means."

The Quiet Revolution website has a lot of great content. This is where I read the blog from Adam Grant.

Here are the 5 myths for his blog:

Myth 1: Extroverts get energy from social interaction, whereas introverts get energy from privately reflecting on their thoughts and feelings.

Every executive coach I know has used the MBTI personality profile for their clients. One of the key measures is the level of introversion vs. extroversion. The MBTI methodology teaches us that introverts find social interaction (networking, meetings) draining and that they need to limit their social activities so that do not "drain their tank".

Adam Grant points out that that there is extensive research showing that this long held MBTI belief is not supported by facts. Both introvert and extrovert are energized by social interaction at about the same levels. The difference between the two personality types is with their comparative "sensitivity to simulation". This means that "an introvert is more prone to being overstimulated by intense or prolonged social interaction".

Executive coaches should take note of this change in the conventional wisdom around introvert social engagement. Quite often they will advise outplacement candidates to place limits on their networking efforts over a concern of draining their tanks. They also may steer many high potential introvert candidates away from taking on leadership roles managing large groups of people. More on that later.

Myth 2: Introverts are plagued by public speaking anxiety 

Many believe that extroverts are the ones to excel at public speaking. The studies show that while introverts did exhibit more anxiety around public speaking, 84% of the anxiety was not related to their introversion but rather over more performance related fears (of bombing, hostile audience). It turns out that there are many excellent introverted public speakers (example - Malcolm Gladwell who I have seen) who are excellent.

In our executive coaching engagements we often work with candidates who are looking to improve their presentation skills and executive presence. This new view of introversion points to not allowing this personality preference to be the definer on whether someone can be an effective communicator. It more stems from control nerves than personality.

Myth 3: Extroverts are better leaders than introverts

Grant reports that studies show that "96% of leaders and managers report being extroverted". He goes on further to say that "65% of senior executives said "it was a liability for leaders to be introverted".

Grant goes on further to again show that there is research that refutes this by showing that introverts and extroverts perform equally well in leadership roles and their effectiveness is more determined by the types of employee teams that they lead.

This myth buster is important to note when management is reviewing who and how to fill their pipeline. Introverts can be very effective leaders and extroverts are not always the ideal candidate for every situation. Breaking the "extrovert ideal" will be an important step in leadership development.

Myth 4: Extroverts are better networkers than introverts

Grant points out that networking does not necessarily belong to the extrovert. While extroverts do benefit from being more outgoing they may not necessarily create the meaningful connections and relationships that are essential for networking to work. As we instruct our outplacement candidates, it is more about quality than quantity.

Myth 5: Extroverts are better salespeople than introverts

This last myth is probably the most prevailing. It is almost universally accepted that extroverts are better suited for sales position (there are assessment criteria used in places that will actually screen out candidates in search of only the extrovert).

What is not addressed though, as Adam Grant points out, is that what is not considered is the ambivert - someone who occupies the middle of the spectrum. This group is large and represents a bigger population than those personality profiles at either end of the spectrum. When Grant studied this he reports that ambiverts brought in more sales revenue than either introverts or extroverts.

Thank you again to Adam Grant and his great article that served as an inspiration for this blog.