The prototypical leader, especially in America, is often painted as outgoing, charismatic, and inspiring. However, newer research suggests that these qualities aren’t necessarily all they’re cracked up to be. A 2004 study found that although CEO’s charisma was tied to their compensation, it was not related to their firms’ performance (Tosi et al., 2004).
On the other hand, it would be a mistake to suggest that these more extroverted qualities aren’t a valuable part of a leader’s repertoire. For instance, as part of the 360 process in Everything DiSC 363® for Leaders, raters were given a chance to ask leaders to perform certain behaviors more often. Out of 24 possible areas, the third most common request was “do more to rally people to achieve goals.” In fact, 44% of people made this request of the person they were rating.
So, what about the introverted leaders of the world? To be sure, they have a great deal to contribute as leaders, but telling a reserved person to be more of a networker or to be more inspiring is almost like telling someone , “Be taller.” You’re asking someone to change something that’s a core part of who they are.
As a consequence, I’m always on the lookout for workarounds. That is, what kind of practical tips and practices are out there to help introverts do the extroverted stuff? The trick, of course, is that it has to be painless. I know I’ll have little success getting someone who hates broccoli to develop a habit of eating broccoli… trust me, my mother tried. But if we can find a close approximation to broccoli, one that’s just as nutritious, we’ve actually got a chance at instilling a healthy habit that will last.
When we were writing our book, The 8 Dimensions of Leadership, I came across a study that offered just the kind of practical tip I love. The authors analyzed the inaugural addresses of 36 presidents. They found that presidents who had been categorized as charismatic used twice as many metaphors as those who hadn’t. In a second study, independent judges rated the passages within the addresses that they found most inspirational. As expected, those inspirational passages were found to contain far more metaphors (Mio et al., 2005).
The good news is that even a reserved leader can use metaphors and vivid imagery without stretching too far outside her comfort zone. Basically, metaphors are cognitive tools that trigger emotional responses. As a consequence, she can use metaphors when “rallying people to achieve goals,” even though she still doesn’t see herself as outwardly enthusiastic or expressive.
Now, of course, many times leaders do need to stretch well beyond their comfort zones. Development’s not always easy. But it’s also nice to have a reservoir of these less painful tips and practices to help our clients grow. So, what practical ideas have you used to help reserved leaders follow through on their more outgoing responsibilities… without completely zapping their energy?
Mio, J. S. , Riggio, R. E., Levin, S. Reese, R. (2005). Presidential leadership and charisma: The effects of metaphor. The Leadership Quarterly, 16, 287–294.
Tosi, H. L., Misangry, V. F., Fanelli, D. A., Yammarino, F. J. (2004). CEO charisma, compensation, and firm performance. The Leadership Quarterly, 15, 405–420.