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I’ve been a first time manager for some time now. I’ve received feedback from my bosses that I’m too reserved and introverted to be in a leadership position.

I need to add here that I’m very communicative, I’ve received plenty of positive feedback on my comm skills during my career so far. I enjoy discussing and sharing ideas. I love presenting. I’m not conflict-averse either.

It’s about my not being loud, expressive and the most chatty type.

To what extent is that a problem when it comes to leadership roles?

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    As said in another comment, this is tightly related to visibility. You should read the excelent answer provided here workplace.stackexchange.com/questions/11816/… Note that this doesn't have to do with extrovert and introvert, but generally introvert tend to neglect the visibility of their work more than extrovert. – Walfrat May 17 at 7:41
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    You forgot the most important thing: are you happy in your job? – Basile Starynkevitch May 17 at 8:28
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    @Basile, I feel great. I don’t have problems interacting with people. I only feel bad about my bosses hating my style. – Missconduct May 17 at 8:57
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    This behavior/comment by upper management places concern / causes skepticism about their intended goals for managers. "Let's be loud" vs "let's organize and align the company goals and the teams around them". No reason to objectively require extroversion vs introversion to meet the latter set of goals. – javadba May 18 at 13:52
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    My introverted friends have called this book a life-changing read. It doesn't teach them how to become extroverts; it reminds them the value introverts bring. goodreads.com/book/show/8520610-quiet – Jason May 19 at 0:08

10 Answers 10

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No, being extrovert is not a necessary condition. But it helps.

There are two sides to the story:

  1. Your relation with your subordinates: as long as everybody is doing a good job, nobody will be sad. Actually, people don't really enjoy when their boss keeps talking.

  2. Your relation with your superiors: this is where you need to show more extrovert behavior. There is a trend among the higher managers to equal noisiness to management qualities. As long as you can satisfy this need of noise they have, you will be successful.


I’m very communicative, I’ve received plenty of positive feedback on my comm skills during my career so far.

This is what colleagues and subordinates look for, usually.


It’s about my not being loud, expressive and the most chatty type.

It is what higher management is sometimes looking for, sometimes even before looking at competencies.

  • Maybe, I am not that knowledgeable :D – virolino May 17 at 7:10
  • I do not understand. What do you mean by "noisiness " ?. @virolino – Pie May 17 at 8:30
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    @BasileStarynkevitch: No, "noise" is the communication made with the purpose to be "visible", to let the people know that you exist and that you can talk loud, without actually transmitting much information and definitely not solving problems. In a remote way, "noise" is similar with "propaganda". – virolino May 17 at 10:29
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    This is truth. Managing up is key to a successful management career and it requires letting those "above" you know what you're doing. For front-line workers, a manager who quietly lets them get on with things because everything is already running smoothly is brilliant. For upper-management, a quiet manager gets forgotten about at best, and more likely assumed to be failing compared to managers who kick up more of a fuss. – BittermanAndy May 17 at 12:23
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    The squeaky management wheel gets the most oil, as long as they have some justification for being super squeaky. Managers who talk about their point of view a lot tend to get more resources and promotions even if they aren't really the best person for the job. – Mark Rogers May 17 at 15:20
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I'm seeing a lot of confusion here about what extroversion is.

Extroversion and introversion are not about your people skills (or lack thereof) they are about what energizes you vs what drains you. They are distinct from skills. We've all known people who are gregarious and out-going but tactless and obnoxious, and we've all known people who are more reserved but are excellent conversationalists and fluent in social gatherings.

Obviously there's some intersection: if being around lots of people in a social setting is energizing to you then you'll likely have more chance to practice the requisite skills compared to social settings being taxing.

As a manager who happens to be an introvert, I've never found the necessary social interactions to be overly draining: there's a lot more to being a manager (at least in my circumstances).

But as another answer pointed out introversion and extroversion are not discrete categories but a continuum: if you are towards the far end of the introvert side management may be too mentally exhausting even if you have the people skills for it.

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    If you're very introverted and have a (non-excessively) elevated amount of social anxiety it can actually help in terms of attainment, but not personal life satisfaction. You just walk into the room in a role, study it, impersonate it, fake confidence, [bravery being "doing it anyway" etc] and over the years you get good at it, like you're in the theatre (and then each time crash out for days afterwards). It's a pretty miserable experience, particularly if it's constant, but you get loads of praise for it. – Dannie May 17 at 15:51
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    "As a manager who happens to be an introvert, I've never found the necessary social interactions to be overly draining:...." Consider yourself lucky. When I've been in supervisory roles, I found that trying to get that guy who's refusing to do his job to actually do his job was exceptionally draining. :-( – GreenMatt May 17 at 16:06
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    @GreenMatt I think that depends a lot on culture (both organizational and at large in whatever society you live in), but I also think even extroverts find that taxing. I was referring more to the day-in day-out interactions. Those situations should be exceptional. – Jared Smith May 17 at 18:28
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    I've always found this extroversion vs introversion a bit of a false dichotomy. Nobody is energized by all kinds of social interactions, nor is anybody always drained by all things social. As far as I can tell, the difference between people is simply the optimal ratio between such settings. For myself, I feel best with about 25% of my time in "active" social environments, 25% in "low-key" social settings, and the remaining 50% just being alone. TLDR: what about all us omniverts? – Will May 19 at 5:03
  • This answer is pretty close to what I would answer myself. I am an introvert manager, and interactions with other humans is the definition of my job. I have practiced enough to be able to do it successfully, but it is mentally exhausting to deal with other people all day every weekday. – BinaryTox1n May 20 at 14:29
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Sundar Pichai is an introvert and look where it got him now . Not just a manager but the CEO of Google. Bill Gates is also admittedly an introvert . So I really don't think it matters whether you're an introvert or an extrovert until and unless you have the passion to work and be a good team player.

  • Yes it absolutely won't hurt your ability to do your job well. But it may not impress your own managers if they are incompetent enough to mistake loudness for competence. (I wish I could tell you that it's impossible to be put in charge of a company if you are that incompetent, but it doesn't take any ability to be born into wealth). – MGOwen May 20 at 2:04
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Is being an extrovert a necessary condition to be a manager?

Not a necessary condition, but a useful skill. You have other skills, so use them on the job.

BTW, you don't explain what is your managerial role (in what industry) and you don't explain why did you accept that role, and how important is to you to climb the hierarchical ladder, that it to become a manager at a higher level.

In my opinion and work experience, good managers are extremely rare (simply because the human brain is not suited for management).

In your list of desired skills relevant to management, you forgot quite an important one: emotional intelligence (which is something you can slightly improve, e.g. by reading books), in particular empathy and the ability to understand, ethically and with respect, the motivations and behavior of your subordinates (they are human beings just like you, not just homo economicus, see also this) and even of your superiors. These skills are not about leadership (even if they are related). And you can apply these skills not only to your subordinates, but even to your superiors. In simpler words, try hard to put yourself in other's shoes.

You probably cannot change the fact that you are more introvert than extravert, since that is part of your core personality (you could try many decades of psychotherapy, but is that worth the pain and the efforts?).

I’ve now got the feedback from my bosses that I’m too reserved and introverted to be in a leadership position.

Notice the confusion they are putting (very probably on purpose) in your mind. A manager is not a leader (even if corporate bullshit tells us otherwise every working day). A manager is someone organizing and facilitating team work (that manager word comes from the French ménage = housekeeping: l'homme de ménage -literally the manager man- is the janitor). In many software development corporations, the technical leader of some team is not its manager.

That might mean one of two things:

  • your boss is giving you the signal that you won't climb the management ladder anymore in your corporation. But do you really care that much? You still could be a good enough manager for years, and give enough satisfaction to both you and your corporation (team and superiors).

  • your boss is trying to convey to you that you did something else very wrongly, and the context in which he told you that is important.

To say it another way: don't try to be a perfect manager, just try to be a good enough one. You could be a good enough manager because of your other skills!

And that is excessively difficult. As I commented, most of the present and past managers I had were quite bad, from my (subordinate's) persepective. But they kept that job for many years.

Remember the obvious: in any kind of hierarchical organization, most of it members won't end at its top (related to the pigeonhole principle). Don't dream too much of become a CEO or reach the top level of management. But you still can be very valuable (to your corporation) and happy (for yourself) while staying at the same position for years.

To what extent is that a problem when it comes to leadership roles?

Being introvert is never a problem per se, but a fact of life (orthogonal to any managerial role). No more than wearing eyeglasses, or being a male or a female, or loving classical Russian opera music. There are good managers with eyeglasses, bad managers with eyeglasses, and good managers without eyeglasses or bad managers without eyeglasses. Likewise, there are good introvert managers, bad introvert managers, good extrovert managers, and bad extrovert managers.

You don't need to become extrovert (because you probably cannot), but you do need to become wiser about your job and your expectations from it. You probably need to accept the fact that you won't become a CEO (on the other hand, in the realm of large corporations, most top CEOs are psychotic! Do you want to be that? Do you even dream to become a Steve Jobs? I never did!)

In a comment, you also say:

I only feel bad about my bosses hating my style.

but the fact that they are telling you that could be their management strategy. I am not sure it is a good one. Even your own boss is likely to be a "bad" manager (because good managers are extremely rare).

So it is likely that the only problem is your perception of the situation, not the situation itself. From what you are telling us, it seems good. The probability that in a large corporation (of say more than 1000 people) every management layer is good enough is extremely small. Consider such a situation as improbable as your city being nuked tomorrow.

NB. This other answer of mine to another question is somehow related to my answer here.

PS. I am a research engineer, close to retirement, and grand-father. So I did have lots of managers. But I did actively refuse to even become one (or even to get any managerial role), and that decision I never regretted: in my personal system of values, becoming a manager is a shame (from my perspective, they are mostly liars), not a promotion. My manager is no more qualified than I am (we both have PhD in CS) and is as young as my oldest son, he don't looks a lot happier than me on the job, and he just earns perhaps 10 or 20% more than I do (and perhaps just as much as me).

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    I like this answer, I would also add many of these are skills and as such can be learned with enough effort and patience – Liath May 17 at 12:21
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I will be a bit philosophical here.

Two psychologists, mother and daughter Katharine Cook Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers, developed a well-respected personality test called the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). It crystallized the meaning of extroverted and introverted.

The test is a very useful tool to help a group of people get to know one another. It takes a snapshot of peoples' personalities, measured along four continuous dimensions. They invented jargon to describe those dimensions.

  • Extraversion(E) -- Introversion(I)
  • Sensing(S) -- Intuition(N)
  • Thinking(T) -- Feeling(F)
  • Judging(J) -- Perceiving(P)

Your bosses, in claiming you're not extroverted enough to work as a supervisor, probably are making mental reference to the first of these dimensions. This jargon has gradually crept into popular use since its inventors first started to release the test in the 1940s. It was part of US military aptitude testing during World War II, so many people were exposed to it.

I've taken this test several times in my career, always with a group of co-workers. It helped us understand each other and learn to communicate effectively. It taught us that we have different ways of talking, writing, and learning. Knowing about peoples' differences has helped me, personally, get along with people better and do better work.

BUT

I've also seen it grievously misused. The dimensions are continuous and have subtlety. Taking a superficial look at my personal last test, you'd see "INTJ." If my boss saw that and didn't really understand it, she'd peg me for certain kinds of work. But, the test actually placed me very slightly toward I on the I-E scale and very slightly towards J on the J-P scale. So my score was actually "?NT?" when I last took the test.

Another misuse is this: These personality types aren't permanent like blood type or fingerprints: they are fluid. So, if my boss thought, "you're INTJ; that's all I need to know," that would be an injustice to the test and me. People change over the course of their lives. Briggs and Myers based their work on philosopher Carl Jung's studies of personality. Jung observed the development of personalities. For example, found that many people who score towards I on the I-E scale will, over time, strengthen their E scores.

From your question, it seems that this personality-type jargon may have seeped into your bosses' minds, and without knowing it they may be misusing this kind of personality type jargon.

The website of the test's publishers says this in their section on ethics.

Ethical guidelines are also meant to prevent the abuse of type. Abuse includes using type to assess people's abilities and using type to pressure people toward certain behaviors.

So, answering your question, does "introversion" disqualify you from supervising other people?

No, it does not.

How can you start to change your bosses' minds about this? A start might be to get them copies of a book on the subject. Give those books to them, and say, "with respect, I disagree with your opinion that I'm not suited for management. Please take a look at this. I hope it will change your mind."

If you can get them to do a team-building session where the group takes the MBTI test, that would be even better.

Good luck.

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    I downvoted this answer because the MBTI is pseudoscientific garbage that really only is used to pigeonhole people (even though the answer does point out that this is an "abuse"). – Joe May 17 at 15:15
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I have a very extrovert manager (with extreme one-upper trait), it might help him with upper management, but not in the teams.
First progress meeting went:
Dev: I've done tasks A & B, in C, I have problem with..
Manager: When I was working on Z in the 80's, I had so many problems I did 170h a week!!
Now:
Manager: How it is going?
Dev: OK
And we do our own meeting without him

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As far as the loud and communicative part, I think it helps but isn't entirely necessary.
When I took a management class in college the professor covered some basic concepts concerning management. I don't want to go into full disclosure on the course, but a main idea was that charisma affects productivity.

Some general ideas concerning charisma:

  • Can you tell a joke?
  • Talk sports?
  • Do you know your coworkers?
  • Engage in small-talk like complimenting outfit/watch/cool tie?
  • Do your coworkers know you (which means you talk about yourself to them)?
  • If you got hit by a bus would all your coworkers miss you and attend your funeral?

If you don't know someone in the office it's difficult to be charismatic. Being nice is not quite the same thing, though it helps and is closer to the goal. Ideally, a subordinate does something for you because they like you (not necessarily because you told them to do something). When workers like their bosses (through charisma, attraction, reviewing their successes, etc.) they tend to become more productive.

There have been studies that show that worker happiness correlates to productivity. For example, a study by the University of Warwick indicated that happiness led to a 12% spike in productivity, while unhappy workers proved 10% less productive.

Reference: https://warwick.ac.uk/newsandevents/pressreleases/new_study_shows/

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I'd like to add an extra thought to this discussion:

O. Jones mentioned personality profiling (MBTI) to this discussion, and I'd like to go a bit deeper in this, but even more philosophically:

It's not the personality profile of a person which determines if a particular person is fit or not for management, but it's the mix of personality profiles in a company's management which determines the company's general atmosphere.

So instead of doubting whether or not you are a good manager, based on your introvert character, ask yourself how your character might improve the general atmosphere in your company.

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As others have already pointed out, there is a fair amount of variance in what people think it means to be an extrovert. They've rightly pointed out that really this has to do with what energizes or drains you -- but often people associate that with more characteristics than that. One thing that hasn't been mentioned is that it's quite common for people with a "Type A" personality (or its similar types from other systems) to think only people like them can be good "leaders".

As Basile pointed out, that doesn't make you a good leader (or good manager, which aren't synonymous). I've worked with various personality types in management, as bosses, peers and employees. Introvert/Extrovert has never been an indicator of their ability to be a leader (or even just a manager). I think the only place I could conceive of that maybe being an issue would be if you were going to oversee a team of rabid inconsiderate extroverts. Think a whole team of ENFPs maybe as I suspect that would probably be exhausting for an introvert. Otherwise, the tendencies for introverts to have a higher EQ, and to think before they speak, etc would be of great benefit.

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Believe it or not a lot of famous celebrities and historical figures are/were introverts. It has nothing to do with being skillful in what you do or whether or not you're able to communicate with people.

With that said, your boss is telling you that you're not good at communicating whatever it is. It may be a skill of listening to something and knowing what to say. Or maybe when something happens, you're not clearly communicating what needs to be done or what happened.

Good: "The database server had too many connections. We had to do a restart last night and it solved the problem. Looking at logs, I find that we need to do..." vs Unclear with follow up questions no doubt:"The database went down and we restarted it."

Good:"Tim, I need you to resolve this ticket today. It is vital and please drop all your work and concentrate on this." vs Unclear and possibly bad later on if Tim doesn't understand the priority*"Tim I assigned you this ticket."*

Good:"Yes, we can implement that feature but here's what we need to add to that..." vs Unclear if you really thought of it:"Yes"

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    You list a number of examples, but it's not clear to me whether you prefer the long or the short versions of these statements, and why. – Ruther Rendommeleigh May 17 at 15:10

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