Image Credit: Shutterstock
Leadership is a human universe. It can even be seen in other species, suggesting that it may be an evolutionarily old process.
A common personality trait of “natural” executives is an above-average degree of extraversion. Research consistently shows that extraverts are more likely to be viewed as leaders by others than introverts and are more likely to be given leadership roles.
We decided to conduct an experiment to see if we could reverse the lead by making introverts act like extraverts. We also wanted to find out how introverts feel like an extravert.
Our results show that introverts who act like extraverts are actually viewed as leaders by others. We also found no evidence of psychological costs for introverts.
What we know about extraversion and leadership
Before we get into the details of our research, let’s briefly summarize the basics of extraversion and leadership.
Extraversion is a continuum that measures the extent to which someone is enthusiastic, assertive and seeks social interaction. It is typically part of the five factor model of personality.
The other dimensions – or characteristics – of the five-factor model include openness (being intellectually curious and creative), conscientiousness (being neat and hardworking), tolerance (being compassionate and polite) and neuroticism (being sensitive to negative emotions such as fear), depression and anger).
Extraversion has biological roots and is inheritable. In other words, one reason we find differences in extraversion between people is because there are genetic differences between people that, in part, determine our personalities. Our genes even predict the likelihood that we will be in a leadership position.
We also know that extraverts have a more sensitive dopamine system in their brain. They’re wired to find rewards more enticing. They crave social interaction and the attentiveness that comes with it. This fact may partly explain why extraverts are more motivated to assume leadership roles, since leadership is an inherently social process.
The five great personality traits. Image Credit: Shutterstock
How we did our experiment
Our experiment consisted of 601 participants who were randomly divided into 166 leaderless groups of typically four people.
We asked these groups to conduct a 20 minute joint problem solving activity (prioritizing the elements needed to survive on the moon). The participants were not told the purpose of the experiment.
We then divided the groups into three “experimental conditions”.
In the first (consisting of 53 groups) we randomly selected one person per group to be energetic, talkative, enthusiastic, brave, active, assertive, and sociable – in other words, extrovert. These instructions were not known to other group members.
In the second (55 groups), the randomly selected group member was secretly instructed to act calmly, cautiously, lethargic, passive, yielding and not adventurous – in other words, introverted.
The third was our control condition with 58 groups in which no individual instructions were given.
At the end of the activity, participants rated the leadership quality of other group members (and themselves). They also rated how they felt.
We checked age, gender and other personality traits using a standard personality test. This ensured that we isolated the real effect of extravert and introvert behavior.
Acting like an extrovert works
The first part of our results was not surprising. Compared to participants in the control condition, those who were instructed to act extravertly were classified by others as having higher leadership potential. Those who were directed to act introverted were rated lower.
It is noteworthy that these ratings did not depend on the “extraversion of characteristics”. In other words, when directed to act extrovert, both introverts and extroverts were rated higher in leadership potential than an equivalent extrovert in the control condition.
We also found that participants who were instructed to act in an introverted manner had lower leadership potential compared to control participants.
It was particularly interesting, however, that these participants also rated themselves particularly poorly in terms of leadership ratings – worse than their group members. Introverted behavior had a particularly negative effect on these people’s view of their own leadership potential.
How it felt to act out of character
How our “actors” felt after the activity is shown in the next figure.
There was no difference for those who acted extensively when compared to the controls. Even introverts felt perfectly fine after acting like extraverts.
The extraverts who acted introverts were a different matter. They had less positive and more negative feelings compared to those in the control condition. In short, acting introverted made her feel bad.
Should introverts act atypical to get ahead?
Our research shows that introverts can effectively act out of character to gain leadership roles and be successful.
If you’re an introvert, maybe you shouldn’t have to. However, we recommend that you prepare to adapt your behavior to the demands of a situation in order to gain an advantage over those who don’t.
It’s also not as difficult as you might think. Research shows that introverts overestimate the inconvenience and underestimate the “hedonic benefits” of extravert behavior. One study even suggests that introverts feel more authentic when they act extrovert.
Knowing that extrovert behavior is usually, though not always, fun, can help you feel more secure about “faking” extrovert behavior in your own interest.
So go ahead – if you want.
Introverts think they don’t like being leaders, but they are capable of being provided by The Conversation
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