Can Introverts Be Leaders? It’s about Self-Awareness

The other day a colleague asked me if I thought extroverts had a special advantage in terms of leadership opportunities. I reflected briefly and responded, “no.” Many of the leaders I’ve known over the years have been introverts. And I’ve known many strong extroverts who have struggled to advance to leadership positions.

I asked my colleague why he was asking. He explained that people from his culture tend to be introverts. He felt introverts were at a disadvantage when it comes to trying to advance to leadership positions.

Personality Assessments

Our conversation led to a discussion of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) personality assessment. My colleague mentioned that his MBTI assessment revealed him to be a strong introvert. He perceived a correlation between his introversion and his difficulty rising up through the leadership ranks.

I asked my colleague why he took the MBTI assessment. He responded, “To better understand my personality type.”  Then I asked, “So how have you used the information to help you with your leadership pursuits?”

There was a pause in our conversation.

It was clear that my colleague understood his MBTI results as a sort of box in which he must stay. It was as if some higher authority was saying, “Thou shalt be an introvert,” and that was that.

An important point people often miss about the MBTI and other personality assessments is that they simply identify the way we interact with others most naturally. They indicate the social dynamic in which we feel most comfortable and most fully ourselves. Personality assessments are not designed to limit us to a certain single way of being. Rather, they serve as tools to help us increase our self-awareness.

Understanding our MBTI results helps us to evaluate our social environment and to determine what approach will enable us to negotiate that environment most successfully. Being self-aware can help us figure out when to amplify or minimize our relative social strengths and weaknesses in order to operate effectively in a given context.

Am I an Extrovert or an Introvert?

I’ve taken the MBTI assessment several times and have been surprised that my results skew slightly on the extrovert side of the introvert/extrovert scale. I better understood the results after retaking the assessment during a leadership training I attended last year. This time the assessment results included a more granular explanation of my personality type.

Apparently, in social contexts where I don’t know people well or at all, I am a very strong introvert. In these situations, I tend to be shy and more socially awkward. But in an environment where I know people well, I am an even stronger extrovert. These two completely opposite preferences coexist within me, but together they put me slightly on the extrovert side of the MBTI scale. This more detailed explanation of my personality type made a lot of sense to me, and it has helped me to negotiate different social environments.

It’s about Self-Awareness

The important point is that the results of personality assessments don’t have to be a box that confines us. Instead, awareness of our natural preferences can free us from that box. It helps us to know when and how to amplify areas that may not normally be among our greatest strengths in order to interact with others more effectively.

I am certain that the most effective leaders I’ve known were more often than not strong introverts. Although introverts tend to struggle in social environments, they can succeed in the pursuit of leadership positions. They just need to use self-awareness to help figure out how to strengthen and amplify their extroversion skills when the context demands it.

The true test of our leadership potential is not found in our natural personality profile, or our introversion or extroversion. It’s about our ability to be self-aware. And it’s about using our awareness to guide where and how to learn, grow and improve our social toolbox.

This blog does not represent official policies of the Corporation for National and Community Service or those of the U.S. Government.

This post was originally posted on GovLoop.com. Jeffrey Page is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.