To Lead or Not To Lead


I’ve often debated the merits of being an assertive, lead-from-the-front, the-boss-is-always-right kind of leader, versus being a nurturing, i-am-right-behind-you, what-do-you-think kind of leader. And for me, the latter has always won the debate.

However, I hear plenty of arguments in favor of the former school of thought, and also see great merits in it. Today I read a feature article by Knowledge@Wharton, in CD from The Economic Times. Titled “Perfect Pairing” it talks about how effective leadership is determined less by leadership and more by the personalities of the people they’re managing!

“Effective leadership is determined less by leadership and more by the personalities of the people they’re managing”

This of course fits with my thinking, and challenges conventional wisdom that tells us that leaders are the men and women who stand up, speak out, give orders, make plans and are generally the most dominant, outgoing people in a group… the extraverts.

This feature points out that introverted leaders are more effective in circumstances where there is a strong second-line of command, and where you want to enhance employee proactiveness.

This belief is supported in a soon to be published paper titled “Reversing the Extraverted Leadership Advantage: The Role of Employee Proactivity”. The paper is co-authored by management professor at Wharton – Adam Gant, Francesca Gino of Harvard Business Schoool, and David Hofmann of Kenan-Flagler Business School, and will appear in the Academy of Management Journal.

The paper points out while assertiveness or extraversion is a strong predictor (and even common evaluation) of  who becomes a leader, it is not necessarily the best way to be a leader.

Extraverted leaders are less receptive to others and their ideas, and can respond in a way that’s discouraging for employees and makes them less willing to work hard and share ideas. Grant further points out that Introverted leaders on the other hand, are more likely to listen carefully to suggestions and support employees actions that make them more proactive.

But point is not about which type is better, but the point here is that you have to choose whether to be extraverted or introverted depending on the kind of people you work with. Because a mismatch of personalities is what leads to leadership-employee conflict and attrition.

Some employees need vision and hand-holding, prodding even… while others simply need vision, a platform, and the space to think, act, and grow. You have to decide which type they are, and then act accordingly.

On a personal note, I have benefited greatly from introverted bosses who nurtured and pushed me to do my best. Of course, being brilliant also helps 😉

No seriously, I have been fortunate to work with and under leaders who have been secure and confident about themselves and hence not challenged by my ideas or work style or anything! They’ve listened, questioned, waited, supported, and done whatever it took to make me apply myself. These are the same people, who on the other hand have given others no rope, except the kind they could hang themselves with!

I myself tend to be more introverted than extraverted. I recognise, like the paper points out, you don’t have to be loud and commanding all the time to lead all the time. Sometimes and with some people, you have to just hand over the wheel, and let them know where you want to be led. And I’ve been fortunate to have been with some really great drivers!

ps. now coming to the relevance of the image above, what I am talking about here. While the Lamborghini Aventador is a thing of beauty overall – the most incredible thing about it is the engine – which incidentally, powers this beauty from the back 🙂