Sally Blount, Dean of Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management
Photograph by Callie LIpkin

And it could be hurting business

By Sally Blount
December 15, 2015

The MPW Insider network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question “When it comes to leadership, is it better to be an introvert or extrovert?” is by Sally Blount, dean of Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

It’s a common fallacy that extroverts are highly talkative and interactive in social settings while introverts are not. But this isn’t the case. In fact, many introverts can work a room as good or better than many extroverts. Just because they’re introverts, doesn’t mean they’re hermits. So let’s set aside these stereotypes.

The second fallacy is that people often confuse volume of air time (whether referring to sound level or amount) with actual value. If the recent “introverts revolution” in business demonstrates anything it’s that taking time for reflection can be equally as important as talking for leaders who want to spur productivity within their teams and organizations.

See also: The Most Overlooked Quality in Leaders

Perhaps what is most important about the differences between introverts and extroverts is what those differences reveal about how the human brain resets under stress — how does it find calm when over-stimulated? In essence, does the brain naturally turn inward “intra” or does it turn outward “extra” to reset? This is important because every leader needs to understand how to most effectively charge and recharge.

But the introversion versus extroversion question is less important to effective leadership than whether one is a strong communicator, which is where the confusion comes in. Great leadership requires thoughtful and meaningful communication everyday, be it one-on-ones, in teams or with large groups. Every successful CEO I have ever met — whether its Phebe Novakovic at General Dynamics, Mary Dillon at Ulta, or Indra Nooyi at PepsiCo has said to me in some form, “It all begins with communication.” And, some of these very persuasive CEOs are self-confessed introverts. So, my advice is, no matter how you “-vert,” embrace it and use it to be more effective. When you’re preparing for a big speech or meeting, if you are an extrovert, find someone to talk your plan through as you get ready to speak. And if you’re an introvert, make sure you have enough white space in your calendar to get the centering time that you need.

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