Can Introverts Be Better Leaders Than Extroverts?

May 14, 2014
7 Min Read

I spoke to Skip Prichard about leadership, why introverts could have the upper hand at work, why you should treat employees as associates, the importance of failure and more. Prichard is the CEO and Leadership Blogger at He is the President & CEO of OCLC, a global nonprofit computer library service and research organization. Its goals include furthering access to the world’s information and reducing library costs.


Dan Schawbel: Can introverts be better leaders than extroverts? What are some of their leadership skills and how can they set themselves apart from extroverts at work?

Skip Prichard: The key to becoming a leader is not your personality style but your ability to maximize the strengths of your team. Introverts tend to be rational, deliberate, and focused. They can use these traits as strengths in leadership roles. If you are an introverted leader, work in these areas and surround yourself with others with complimentary skills. And, if you aren’t sure if you are introverted or extroverted, I developed a quiz.

Once, I managed a company with an almost exclusively extroverted executive team. We would talk out loud, brainstorm, and share ideas.  When I switched companies, the new team was introverted. At first, I made the mistake of managing the team the same way. My brainstorming questions were met with silence. I quickly learned that, to bring out the best thinking, I needed to send questions in advance. That gave the introverts time to reflect, and we got terrific answers. Introverts need to know what works for them.

Schawbel: What do you mean when you say to "treat employees like associates"?

Prichard: A few years ago, some business authors called people “human capital,” implying that they are an asset similar to equipment or inventory. Treat people like tractors and you will not find a motivated, engaged workforce.

Treating employees like associates implies respect, trust, and a professional association.  JD Power said it means not asking them to do anything you would not do yourself.

When you treat others with respect, have high expectations, and hold people accountable, you will develop a high-performance team. If you treat people like machines, you will never have the opportunity to see what they are fully capable of accomplishing.

Schawbel: Why is confidence more compelling than competence at work and how do you go about building your confidence?

Prichard: Confidence and competence tend to reinforce each other. One without the other is usually noticeable. If I had to choose one, I would choose confidence because leaders with confidence tend to be magnetic, attracting others with the competence needed to meet a goal.

To build your confidence, begin the journey of self development. Whether through physical exercise, meditation, or reading, there are a variety of ways to begin. Last year, I worked with an executive to build his self-confidence. The biggest breakthrough came when we worked on body language. Your posture sends signals not only to others but also to your own brain. Your brain responds to a powerful body stance and will have a greater impact than you realize.

Schawbel: How can you be a leader when you have a remote team? Any tips?

Prichard: That’s more common today than ever, but we live in the era of technological tools from video conferencing to social media. If someone works for you remotely, it is important to think about the relationship and not only the work product. Building that relationship requires time.

To build a remote team, I have also used various team ideas to tie the team together. For instance, we used traveling trophies where each person receives something in the mail, adds to the object, and takes a picture of it with them in different parts of the globe. That built camaraderie. Online gaming or an online course also offer the opportunity to have fun while learning about each other.

Make sure the team has a shared objective. If we are all working to achieve a goal, it will give us reasons to come together regardless of geographic location.

Schawbel: Why is the fear of failure essential to a leaders success?

Prichard: Successful people are driven and have a healthy fear of failure.

When I interviewed baseball legend John Smoltz, I was surprised that, instead of sharing all of his successes, he talked about his failures. He saw failure as a motivator and something to overcome. That’s a healthy view of failure. One failure motivated him to keep going, thus turning it into a stepping-stone to ultimate success.

With passion and grit, the most successful people pursue their goals. If you never fail, you are not trying new things. If you let failure paralyze you, you lose its amazing power.

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