Farnam Street helps you make better decisions, innovate, and avoid stupidity.

With over 400,000 monthly readers and more than 93,000 subscribers to our popular weekly digest, we've become an online intellectual hub.

Do Extroverts Make Better Leaders?

We spend a lot of time trying to understand the characteristics of good leaders. Research now suggests that leading in an extraverted manner is a key to success.

Extraversion is best understood as a tendency to engage in behaviors that place oneself at the center of attention, such as seeking status and acting dominant, assertive, outgoing, and talkative. In fact, according to some research, Extroversion is “the most consistent correlate of leadership across study settings and leadership criteria.”

We’re likely to become susceptible to the halo effect with extroverts, given that extroverted leaders match the prototypes of charismatic leaders (that dominate Western Cultures and Business) and our availability/survivorship bias (we remember those extroverted leaders who turn around failing companies while forgetting the many that have failed). 

In an online survey of over 1,500 senior leaders earning at least six-figure salaries, 65% viewed introversion as a barrier to leadership and only 6% believed that introverts were more effective leaders than extraverts. The research is clear — extraverts have a clear advantage.  However, the benefits to extroversion are likely overstated. Most of the research up till now has looked at perceptions of leadership effectiveness performance of the groups and organizations that leaders guide—a paramount indicator of leaders’ actual effectiveness. Like so much in life, extroverts are better leaders in certain contexts and not in others.

I found an interesting study, (abstract below), arguing that extroverts are better leaders only when groups are passive.


Extraversion predicts leadership emergence and effectiveness, but do groups perform more effectively under extraverted leadership? Drawing on dominance complementarity theory, we propose that although extraverted leadership enhances group performance when employees are passive, this effect reverses when employees are proactive, because extraverted leaders are less receptive to proactivity. In Study 1, pizza stores with leaders high (low) in extraversion achieved higher profits when employees were passive (proactive). Study 2 constructively replicates these findings in the laboratory: passive (proactive) groups achieved higher performance when leaders acted high (low) in extraversion. We discuss theoretical and practical implications for leadership and proactivity.

Filed Under: