The Leadership Series | #5 ‘Good leaders balance Introversion and Extroversion’

The term extroversion and introversion was first coined by Carl Jung (pronounced Yuung) in the 1920’s. Jung was and continues to be one of the most influential figures in the field of psychoanalysis. But what is the difference between the two terms? Its where we derive our energy from. Introverts get recharged when they sit quietly at home with a book or with some music. Extroverts derive their energy from being in the buzz – parties, friends, events.

Why is this difference important to our leadership skills? Understanding who we are and what our proclivities and tendencies are, is critical if we want to be good leaders. In the first post of this series, we looked at How Good Leaders are Deeply Connected to Themselves. Understanding what our nature is, devoid of external people, events and circumstances is crucial for us to bring out the best in ourselves. Therefore, in order to know whether we are introverted or extroverted, requires some amount of introspection, some amount of quiet time and some amount of space in our minds.

Most of us may start at extreme ends of the spectrum. On one end is extreme introversion – you don’t like any external contact, crowds bother you immensely, you are shy to speak up and generally dislike of the world, which is perceived as loud, noisy and distracted. On the other end is extreme extroversion – inability to sit still and focus on the task, inability to think deeply about a subject, always jumping from person to person or thing to thing, always at parties amidst people and so on. Both these extremities are a dysfunctional state. They cripple us. The key is to find a balance and to develop those traits which we lack. How do we bring about this balance? Effort.

A panoramic view of Freiburg, Germany taken from Schollberg. 2019.

For instance, let us assume you are an extrovert. You just can’t focus on one thing at a time. And the constant shifting between tasks (writing, messaging, talking to people) means that you are constantly restless. This makes it very hard to focus on a task. And they usually rely on others (people or the web) to form ideas. Here, it would make sense to develop some opposite introverted qualities. One good way is to adopt the Pomodoro Technique which is essentially a timer which one sets to focus solely on one task. Start small say 8 minutes. During this time you merely spend time with the task – not worrying about completing things – and completely devoid of any distractions (social media, etc.). This can help bring in periods of focus in your natural state which is ceaseless restless activity. Meditation and breathwork can also go a long way in calming the mind. This helps extroverts break out of their positive vicious cycle of “more and more” which takes them away from who they really are.

On the other hand, let us assume you are an introvert and you simply hate socializing. You hate parties and all the shallow talk that comes with it. You’d rather be at home reading a book or playing an instrument. Introverts are prone to over criticism and being judgemental about others. Here, one could schedule some time each week – say a few hours every weekend – to be a part of a hobby group or a friends meet at the local cafe. Try to pick people who you get along with, so that it becomes easier. Another technique that I often employ is to randomly head to the local market. It’s crazy, chaotic and noisy. In that one hour I choose to talk to the vegetable and fruit vendors, ask them where they are from, what their names are and how business is in general. This helps introverts break out of the negative vicious cycle of munching constantly on their thoughts and getting nothing done.

So what has this got to do with leadership? Leadership starts with developing an acute sense of who we are. Once we have identified our patterns of behaviour and its shortcomings, we can go about consciously developing the opposite side of our personalities. This balance is critical for leaders. We see too many extroverted leaders who run companies into the ground because of false sense of confidence. At the same time we see introverted leaders who avoid their own employees and fail to communicate their vision with clarity. We need a mix of both. We need the acute, sharp, intuitive, critical thinking that introversion can bring. We also need the bold, dynamic, gregarious, connection-making skills of the extrovert.

Self-reflection helps in understanding where we are. And meditation can help us transcend the limitations of the mind. Essentially introversion and extroversion are mind patterns that have deeply become a part of our personality. An introverted mind is a mind that dwells constantly on its own thoughts. An extroverted mind is one that dwells on the constant external inputs from the world. One can imagine it as an energy field – one going inside one’s mind and the other outside into the world. What meditation does is to dis-identify one’s deep psychological identity from who we really are. Meditation helps us observe yourself in a non-judgemental way and go, “Oh, look at what’s happening in me”. Through deliberate and constant practice we begin to gain perspective, we begin to gain a distance between who we are and our ceaseless thoughts. And in this distance, we connect to a deep part of ourselves, which is the birth place of both the introverted qualities like critical thinking, creativity and intuition as well as the extroverted qualities such as ease of talking to people, ability to handle dynamic external environments. And both are critical for oneself and for an organization. Meditation can help accentuate the positive attributes of both introverts and extroverts while ameliorating the extreme negativities of each.

Such leaders can radically change their organizations by bringing clarity of purpose to the company, inspiring employees with a shared vision, and working hard to cope with dynamic environments and marketing oneself adeptly. Such leaders are worth having and indeed for ourselves this is something worth growing into.

To conclude, extroverts can look at developing some introverted traits such as empathy, sensitivity and critical thinking. And introverts can look at developing some extroverted traits such as dynamism, ability to connect to people and ability to take risks.

[Thanks to one of my closest friends for helping me think through this article]

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