Can Introverts Lead? Three Myths About Personality at Work

By ColumnsFOXBusiness

Personality is one of the most widely researched phenomena in psychology, yet we still struggle to understand it.

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Professor John Mayer at University of New Hampshire defines personality as “the organized, developing, system within the individual that represents the collective action of that individual’s major psychological subsystems.” In layman’s term, your personality is the natural internal driver that leads you to prefer certain styles of interaction over others.

When it comes to studying personalities in the workforce, there is certainly a lot of research suggesting certain personality profiles will likely lead to more success in certain occupations. However, it’s not that simple. Here are three common myths that involve the introversion-extroversion personality dynamic.

Personality is a Prison: We are all born with certain abilities and natural dispositions. Our natural dispositions help determine our strengths and define our comfort zones.

For the most part we strive to stay within out natural comfort zones, but there are times we have to operate outside of our comfort zone from time to time in order to get things done. It’s basic survival. For example, a highly=introverted novelist might have to make public appearances and do book signings as part of his work. This type of social interaction may not be at the top of his list, but it’s a key part of the role. Success in any endeavor comes down to knowing yourself well enough to understand how to best work both within and outside of your comfort zones. Personality is not a prison!

Personality is Intent: When someone behaves in a way that is counter to what we are personally comfortable with, we often assume it’s intentional. Personality is often confused with intent. We all have our own natural dispositions that guide how we act. What is natural for you may not be natural for others.

I frequently hear complaints from workers that a team member is intentionally holding back from contributing in meetings. This person just doesn’t seem to be stepping up to get their voice heard. More often than not, this individual isn’t trying to hold back, he is an introvert overwhelmed by a team of extraverts all competing for attention. Understanding individual differences is critical in managing teams. Good managers need to recognize personality differences and work to harness the power of these differences as opposed to letting them get in the way. When someone’s behavior is different from yours it’s because she is in fact different from you!

All Executives are Extraverts: You don’t necessarily need to be an extravert to be an executive.  According to research from associate professor Adam Grant at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, there are circumstances where introverted leaders have an advantage over their extraverted colleagues. In particular, Grant and his colleagues found that introverted leaders work better with more proactive teams. In other words, when you have a team of individuals who tend to be proactive in making suggestions and sharing ideas, the best type of leader is someone who will stay out of the way.

There are certain contexts where a charismatic, dominant, and assertive leader is necessary to rally individuals to action. However, as Grant’s research points out, our focus should be on matching leaders to context as opposed to following a singular leader profile.

If you take the time you will notice there are a number of introverts in politics and media, we just don’t notice them as readily as their extroverted counterparts.

Michael “Dr. Woody” Woodward, PhD is a CEC certified executive coach trained in organizational psychology. Dr. Woody is author of The YOU Plan: A 5-step Guide to Taking Charge of Your Career in the New Economy and is the founder of Human Capital Integrated (HCI), a firm focused on management and leadership development. Dr. Woody also sits on the advisory board of the Florida International University Center for Leadership.Follow Dr. Woody on Twitter and Facebook 

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