What comes to mind when you think of a leader? Is it an imposing CEO who exudes his presence? Or is it a dynamic world leader who dominates your evening news? Our society adores a charming, extroverted leader but it is this stereotypical profile that discourages many from stepping up. This begs the question — is being extroverted the sole trait that determines who the leaders of our country are?
As an introvert who — contrary to popular belief — enjoys taking the lead, I have encountered a common presumption that given their naturally dominant traits, extroverts are better suited for leadership. However, this belief does not present the whole picture. All students are familiar with the dreaded group task’ we used to receive in school. But whilst my classmates were struggling to work together, I noticed an intriguing pattern: groups led by introverted students were far more proactive than the ones led by their extroverted peers.
Research suggests this is because introverts are likely to let proactive members run with their ideas, whereas extroverts may feel threatened by members who take initiative. Hence, we must revisit the preconceived notions that drive introverts off the playing field.
But aren’t introverts, too, reserved and shy to put their foot down and take important decisions that leaders are tasked with? That’s where many of us may have gotten the wrong idea.
It is quite simple: introverts, when tasked with a problem, react consciously by thinking first, and then acting. This notion is supported by a study by Rehana Khalil, in which almost all of the participating extroverts needed to be steered in the right direction, whereas more than three-fourths of the introverted participants relied independently on their foreknowledge and reasoning to make mutually beneficial decisions. Given the consequential decisions made by our leaders, shouldn’t we also consider candidates who are proven to make a conscious choice?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying extroverts shouldn’t be leaders. I simply ask we give their introverted counterparts a chance, because children all around the world, including me, were forced to grow up believing that our innate introverted tendencies would be a roadblock in achieving our dreams.
The solution? Awareness and acceptance. Not enough people even realise this to be a problem. Schools must provide leadership programmes from an early age that do not base merit on the loudest speaker, but encourage people to manage a group efficiently. From here, institutions must recognise leadership to be a more versatile characteristic in a person and not just pinhole it down to a narrow definition.
So, the next time you are put in a position to choose a leader, look beyond their persona and demeanour, and instead, look into their potential and capability.