14 Feb 2021

Want to get ahead as an introvert? Act like an extrovert

From Sunday Morning, 10:40 am on 14 February 2021

A common personality trait of leaders is a high level of extroversion. But what about introverts who are interested in obtaining leadership roles in their lives and careers?

The answer is simple: act like an extrovert.

Dr Andrew Spark, a postdoctoral research fellow at the QUT Business School, found this out after running a series of experiments which encouraged introverts to act like extroverts.

Dr Andrew Spark is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow from the QUT Business School.

Dr Andrew Spark is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow from the QUT Business School. Photo: Supplied

Research over the last five decades has shown that extroverts are the ones that generally get into leadership roles and they occupy the most senior positions in organisations more often than introverts, he told Jim Mora.

His experiment involved 600 people.

Each group had four people and they were assigned a task where they had to complete a particular problem-solving activity, he says.

“In the first 50 groups one person in each group was randomly selected to act like an extrovert we instructed them to act assertively, act determinedly and energetically confidently and enthusiastic. These are all characteristics of the extrovert.

In another set of 50 groups one person, the actor, was instructed to act introverted – quiet, reserved and passive, he says.

Another set of 50 groups, the control group had no instruction as to how to act.

“People who acted extroverted felt pretty good, they felt perfectly fine, even the introverts felt pretty good about themselves.

“But we found the extroverts, who had to act introverted, they absolutely hated it, extroverts could not handle acting introverted at all.”

The research seems to indicate that introverts are were behaviourally flexible, he says.

“If they have to act extroverted they will, and there doesn’t appear to be too many consequences for them.”

When people act extroverted they experience positive emotions and that seems to be true for introverts as well, he says.

Three hours later, after the activity, is where the two personality types differ, he says.

“In the moment you’ll feel pretty good, you’ll feel exhilarated activated but around three hours later fatigue will set in.

“That mental fatigue is true for introverts and extroverts, the difference is the way extroverts are wired is that despite feeling potentially exhausted mentally they have this motivational engine that makes them want to continue on.

“The idea of engaging with another social interaction is often welcome while the introvert is ‘forget it. I’m too exhausted’.”

In order to achieve a particular goal there is value in being behaviourally flexible, he says.

“And the good news is introverts appear to be able to do that if they want to.”

Introverts as can bring value to organisations as leaders, he says.

Extroverts are more likely to be overly dominant, dominate conversations whereas when introverts are leading particular kinds of teams, with lots of talent get up and go, they are good at getting out of people’s way, Spark says.

“Introverts are better leaders for those sorts of teams, are better at empowering those teams to get out of their way so they can get on and do their job.”