Meet the Ambivert Leader at the Heart of High-Performing Organisations

Meet the Ambivert Leader at the Heart of High-Performing Organisations

Published 4th November 2019
by 
Archana Das Goveravaram

HCLI Researcher

Published 4th November 2019

Given that leaders bolster organisational effectiveness and performance, there is long-standing interest in the personality traits of successful leaders. Archana Das Goveravaram, explores what makes ambivert leaders successful, and what strategies extroverts and introverts can employ to become more ambivert and thrive in the workplace.
 

Who are Extroverts, Ambiverts and Introverts?

A plethora of studies indicates that ambiverts tend to be more effective leaders in comparison with extroverts and introverts. But what exactly are the key attributes of extroverts, ambiverts and introverts? Extroverts are highly sociable, outgoing, impulsive and boisterous [1] whereas introverts tend to be quiet, reserved, reflective, and less impulsive [2]. In the middle of the personality continuum we have “ambiverts”, who occupy the space between the polar extremes of extroversion and introversion, embracing the fundamental attributes of both. Ambiverts are able  to move comfortably between boisterous social settings and intense seclusion, and know how to speak assertively but not aggressively [3]. Extroverts tend to gain energy externally and become bored when they are alone. Conversely, introverts tend to gain energy internally and prefer to spend time alone as they feel drained by a lot of social interaction[4]. Ambiverts, on the other hand, get energy, both internally and externally (see figure1).

 

extrovert introvert ambivert energy
Figure 1: Extroverts, ambiverts, introverts and the sources of the energy.[5]


Why do extroverts, ambiverts and introverts tend to behave differently? Perhaps, biology can give us an answer.


Biological Basis of Extroversion, Ambiversion and Introversion

According to Eysenck’s theory of personality, the varying behaviours of extroverts, ambiverts and introverts are due to the differences in cortical arousal. Extroverts have low cortical arousal, which in turn increases their need for more external stimulation, while introverts’ have high cortical arousal that decreases their need for external stimulation. In contrast, ambiverts tend to have an optimal level of cortical arousal and therefore experience moderate levels of external stimulation [6] (see figure 2).

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Scale of how much external stimulation introverts, ambiverts and extroverts need. Introverts need the least, while extroverts need the most :)
Figure 2: Extroverts, ambiverts, introverts and their preference for external stimulation[7]

 

“There is no such thing as a pure introvert or extrovert. Such a person would be in the lunatic asylum"
– Carl Jung


Who are the Most Effective Leaders? Extroverts, Introverts or Ambiverts?

Ambiverts are socially bilingual [8] highly flexible, less volatile, adaptive, communicative and emotionally intelligent people [9]. As “quasi-chameleons” [3] ambiverts can easily act like extroverts in social situations and introverts when alone, indicating the fact that they are adaptive and highly comfortable in a broad range of scenarios [10]. Furthermore, ambivert leaders augment the firm’s success by combining the extrovert’s assertiveness with the introvert’s quiet confidence [8]. Ambiverts, conversely strike a fine balance between talking and listening, proving to be excellent leaders. They can pitch to investors, generate ideas, communicate the vision and bring out the best from any introverted employees and partners [11]. Extroverts with an exceedingly “chirpy behaviour” or introverts with their “anti-social” and “seclusive” approach may put off their introverted and extroverted clients respectively.
 

Empirical evidence has shown that ambiverts are good at building successful companies and amplifying sales turnover (Grant, 2013)


Grant (2013) tracked the sales performance of extroverts, introverts and ambiverts over a period of three months and came out with intriguing results. Grant found that introverts fared worst and earned an average revenue of $120 per hour, extroverts performed slightly better, pulling in $125 per hour. In contrast, ambiverts earned an average hourly revenue of $155, beating the extroverts by a healthy 24 per cent. Also, Grant found that the relationship between extroversion and sales-revenue is not linear, but curvilinear. Grant suggests that extroverts and introverts are not good at leading and selling, due to the poor listening skills, the dominating conversational style of extroverts and the reticent behaviour of the introverts (see figure 3) [12].

Figure 3: Results from a hierarchical regression analysis showing a predicted curvilinear relationship between extroversion and sales revenue over 3 months.[13]
Figure 3: Results from a hierarchical regression analysis showing a predicted curvilinear relationship between extroversion and sales revenue over 3 months.[13]

 

Extroverts and performance

Research indicates that extroversion is not related to performance in pharmaceutical sales [14], wholesale manufacturing sales [15], health and fitness sales [16] and business to business sales [17]. Also, an illuminating study by a team of researchers from Harvard, Stanford and the University of Chicago investigated more than 70,000 conference calls involving 4,591 CEOs and found a negative association between extroversion and contemporary as well as future return on assets and cash flow [18].


Introverts and Performance                       

In one of the illuminating studies conducted by Harvard in 2006, 65% of the senior corporate executives viewed introversion as a barrier to leadership [20]. Also, a review of the extant literature suggests that research about introverted leaders is somewhat sparse, leading to the view that more research in this area is necessary.


Strategies for Extroverts to Become More Ambiverted

Extroverts need to ensure that they have adequate “me time”: Instead of spending the entire weekend on socialising, extroverts can try to reserve Saturday or Sunday for staying alone, enjoying a period of solitude self-reflecting and introspecting. The extroverted individual can plan well to ensure some balance and mitigate the effects of either over or under socialisation.

Self-appraisal of verbosity in business meetings and reducing it if one is too verbose: Extroverts should be self-critical of verbose behaviour during meetings. If the time taken up speaking is exceedingly high, extroverts can consider reining things in to allow others to express their creative and valuable ideas. By giving a speaking opportunity to others, extroverted leaders will be able to nurture a decentralised culture and encourage their team members to come up with new ideas.

Be more receptive of other ideas: In stealing the limelight, extroverts can tend to be less responsive to team members’ views. They may slam the unique and valid suggestions of efficient contributors, thus creating a mechanistic culture that may negatively affect employees morale and psychological safety. To build successful organisations, extroverted leaders need to listen to and implement team member suggestions.

Ask questions, take brief pauses and, facilitate smooth discussion: During meetings, extroverted leaders may facilitate and contribute enormously by “asking open-ended questions” and inviting a wealth of information from the introverted team members. Extroverts may give their suggestions, take brief pauses and encourage smooth team discussion. As prompting and asking questions allow introverts to reflect, contemplate, and participate, this strategy may be used to promote equal participation by all team members and reduce the risk of monologuing.

Monitor tone, body language, and energy levels: As extroverts are full of energy, they can tend to appear over-excited. At times, they may put off their introverted peers by displaying high levels of confidence, using high power poses (expansive posture) and speaking loudly. However, by speaking softly, showing appropriate body language and being less forceful, extroverts may come to enjoy an improved relationship with different kinds of personalities.


Strategies for Introverts to Become More Ambiverted

Introverts may need to reduce “me time”: Introverts can intermittently engage in social activities to enhance their social skills. It is difficult for introverts to suddenly socialise with people if they stay alone most of the time. Therefore, introverts need to engage in social activities intermittently. Introverts may record in a diary the amount of time spent attending parties, networking in business meetings, and giving public presentations.

Self-appraisal of verbosity in business meetings and increasing it if one is too reticent: Introverts should appraise the amount of time spent on presenting their viewpoints. As shyness and discomfort in public speaking intrude with introverts’ verbose behaviour, they may consider getting into the habit of writing down the crucial points about the topic of discussion well in advance and start practising to present points more cogently. Adequate practice and prior preparation may help introverts to put forth their ideas in business meetings.

Seeking Technological Assistance: Introverts can make the best use of modern, promising meeting tools like BlueJeans, Eva by Voicera, GoWall and still be a part of the conversation. As introverts are very good at writing than speaking, they may use technological tools (eg: GoWall) for capturing their novel and brilliant ideas via text rather than speaking up. In this way, organisations can leverage the unique potential of the introverts without leaving their voice behind. 

Request an agenda well in advance: Introverts may be in a better position to express their views confidently if they have the opportunity to seek details about the meeting agenda well in advance. Moreover, by knowing the minuscule details of the meeting, introverts can mull over and present their thoughts smoothly in a public setting. Therefore, it may be recommended for introverts to seek out the agenda well in advance and thereby evidence more positive outcomes that are in turn, encouraging and reinforcing. 

Seek out and volunteer for team-based assignments: Introverts may discuss with their bosses and seek out jobs that allow them to pursue teamwork and actively engage in public speaking. By volunteering in these kinds of assignments, introverts will improve their social and public presentation skills.

There is now compelling evidence to suggest that organisations stand to benefit from training highly introverted or extroverted leaders to model the balanced approach of the ambivert leaders. Rather than limiting the top management pool to only extroverts [21] or introverts, organisations can promote ambivert leaders as they play a pivotal role in enhancing the organisational performance and development. By doing this, organisations will avoid losing out on those balanced and high performing leaders who bring novelty and incremental success to the management table.

 

^[1]Green, T. C., Jame, R., & Lock, B. (2018). Executive extraversion: Career and firm outcomes. The Accounting Review, 94(3), 177–204.

^[2]Eysenck, H. J. (1967). The biological basis of personality. Springfield, IL: Charles Thomas.

^[3]Ankeny, J. (2015). A winning personality. Entrepreneur, 43(3), 36–41.

^[4] Bernstein, E. (2015, July 27). Not an introvert, not an extrovert? You may be an ambivert; sometimes social, sometimes solitary, ambiverts often make good sales people. Wall Street Journal.

^[6] Eysenck, H. J. (1971). Readings in extraversion-introversion: Bearings on basic psychological processes. New York, NY: Staple Press.

^[8] Pink, D. H. (2013, January 30). Why extroverts fail, introverts flounder, and you probably succeed. Washington Post Online. Retrieved from http://maryschmidt.pbworks.com/f/Ambiverts - Daniel Pink.pdf

^[9] Wirya, F. (2016). 3 ambivert advantages: A change manager’s insights. Retrieved September 13, 2017, from Linkedin website: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/leveraging-ambivert-advantage-change-managers-insights-friska-wirya

^[10] Holohan, M. (2016). Winning personality: The advantages of being an ambivert. Retrieved September 13, 2017, from Today website: https://www.today.com/health/winning-personality-advantages-being-ambivert-t70236

^ [11]Moody, C. (2015). Work wanted: Applause for the ‘ambiverts,’ who can lead by example while listening to others. Retrieved August 25, 2015, from Jacksonville.com website: https://www.jacksonville.com/article/20150825/BUSINESS/801251810

^ [12]Grant, A. M. (2013). Rethinking the extraverted sales ideal: The ambivert advantage. Psychological Science, 24(6), 1024–1030.

 

^ [13]Adapted from “Rethinking the extroverted sales ideal: The ambivert advantage”, by  Grant (2013), Psychological Science, 24, 1024-1030.  

^[14]Thoresen, C. J., Bradley, J. C., Bliese, P. D., & Thoresen, J. D. (2004). The big five personality traits and individual job performance growth trajectories in maintenance and transitional job stages. Journal of Applied Psychology, 89(5), 835–853

^[15] Barrick, M. R., Mount, M. K., & Strauss, J. P. (1993). Conscientiousness and performance of sales representa tives: Test of the mediating effects of goal setting. Journal of Applied Psychology, 78, 715–722.

^[16] Furnham, A., & Fudge, C. (2008). The five factor model of personality and sales performance. Journal of Individual Differences, 29, 11–16.

^[17] Stewart, G. L. (1996). Reward structure as a moderator of the relationship between extraversion and sales performance. Journal of Applied Psychology, 81(6), 619–627.

^[18]Gow, I. D., Kaplan, S. N., Larcker, D. F., & Zakolyukina, A. A. (2016). CEO personality and firm policies (No. w22435).

^[19] Grant, A. M., Gino, F., & Hofmann, D. A. (2010, December). The hidden advantage of quiet bosses. Harvard Business Review.

^[20] Stephens-Craig, D., Kuofie, M., & Dool, R. (2015). Perception of introverted leaders by mid to high-level leaders. Journal of Marketing & Management, 6(1), 62–75.

^[21] Ones, D. S., & Dilchert, S. (2009). How special are executives? How special should executive selection be? Observations and recommendations. Industrial and Organizational Psychology, 2(2), 163–170.

 

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