Is it Time for the Introverted Leader?


What type of individual makes a great leader? The answer to that question is likely to cause a debate in any social circle. The truth is, leaders are people and people come in all shapes and sizes. Most people think of the stereotypical leader as someone who is confident, charismatic, outgoing, and larger-than-life; but what about the introvert? Can introverts make great leaders?

Jessica Stillman tackles this question in a great article in called 7 Reasons Introverts Make Great Leaders. In the article she warns about being seduced by charisma and overlooking more quiet individuals. She explains that, “introverted personality types come equipped with significant leadership advantages.” Her seven reasons make a lot of sense:

  1. They’re better listeners
  2. They’re better prepared
  3. They go deep
  4. They don’t mind solitude
  5. They keep their cool
  6. They don’t settle
  7. They write more

In fact, this is exactly what Jim Collins found when researching his landmark business book, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…And Others Don’t. In that book, Jim and his team researched 1,500 companies and identified 11 that made the leap from being good companies to ones that outpaced the market for a significant period of time. In working to determine all the factors that led to these remarkable transformations, he discovered something unique in the leadership traits of their CEOs. They were not the charismatic, outgoing types but had quiet, almost shy, personalities.

This “paradoxical combination of personal humility and professional will,” which he called Level 5 Leadership, was always present in the CEOs of companies that made the leap to a great company. As I wrote in a previous article, What Level is your Leadership?, there is extensive evidence that charismatic, extroverted CEOs have the ability to improve their companies in the short-term, but long-term transformation only occurs with a Level 5 Leader at the helm.

Jim explained Level 5 Leadership in greater detail in an HBR article called Level 5 Leadership: The Triumph of Humility and Fierce Resolve. The leadership qualities of personal humility and professional will he called the “yin and yang” of Level 5 Leadership.

Level 5 leaders demonstrate personal humility:

  • They are modest, shunning public adulation; never boastful.
  • They act with quiet, calm determination; relying principally on inspired standards, not inspiring charisma, to motivate.
  • They channel their ambition into the company, not themselves; they set up successors for even more greatness in the next generation.
  • They look in the mirror, not out the window, to apportion responsibility for poor results, never blaming other people, external factors, or bad luck.

Level 5 leaders demonstrate professional will:

  • They demonstrate an unwavering resolve to do whatever must be done to produce the best long-term results, no matter how difficult.
  • They create superb results and are the clear catalyst in the transition from good to great.
  • They set the standard of building an enduring great company; they will settle for nothing less.
  • They look out the window, not in the mirror, to apportion credit for the success of the company—to other people, external factors, and even good luck.

While I still believe leaders come in all shapes and sizes, there is an argument to be made for the introverted leader. Introverted leaders come equipped with significant leadership advantages and, if combined with a deep relentless will to succeed, they can lead companies to remarkable transformations. So, what do you think? Is the stereotypical model of the charismatic leader wrong? Are we ignoring more introverted employees as potential leaders? Are there times when organizations need an extroverted leader and times when an introverted leader is needed?

Leave a Reply