Extraversion and Leadership

Extraversion is a behavioral trait that is characterized by one’s sociability, energy, and inclination to experience positive emotions. Extraverts tend to be talkative, optimistic, and like to meet and greet new people. Popular measures of the trait note that extraverts feel comfortable around people, make friends easily, and are skilled in handling social situations.

Extraverts are most often characterized as assertive, active, energetic, upbeat, talkative and optimistic individuals (Costa & McCrae, 1992). Extraverts experience and express positive emotions (Watson & Clark, 1997) which are revealed in assessments of job satisfaction (Judge, Bono, Ilies, & Gerhardt, 2002) and subject well-being (DeNeve and Cooper, 1998). Their optimistic views of the future allow extraverts to emerge as group leaders (Judge et al., 2002; Stogdill, 1948), to be perceived as “leaderlike” (Hogan et al., 1994), and to exhibit behaviors consistent with the transformational model of leadership (Bono & Judge, 2004). It is therefore no surprise that Bono and Judge (2004) recognized extraversion as “the strongest and most consistent correlate of transformational leadership” (p. 901).

However, that while dominance, sociability, and extraversion are important attributes for leadership in general, the effectiveness of these traits depends on who is being led and the nature of the context in which leadership takes place. Individuals who are excessively extroverted have a tendency to behave in bold, aggressive, and grandiose ways. They like to be the center of attention, quickly bounce from one conversation or idea to another, and are prone to over-estimating their own capabilities (Hogan & Hogan, 2001). As such, extraverted leaders may be less likely to solicit input from subordinates and colleagues, potentially alienating organizational members who prefer that attention and credit be shared. Further, extraverted leaders who engage in short and shallow discussions with many people in an organization, might fail to provide a clear strategic focus for followers, ultimately making extraverted leaders hard to please. Lastly, as sensation seekers who maintain short-lived enthusiasm for projects, people, and ideas (Beauducel et al., 2006), extraverted leaders may make hasty decisions to pursue aggressive acquisitions or investments, and change course prematurely if returns on such investments do not materialize on an extravert’s bold and aggressive schedules.

Here is the summary of a recent research study that illustrates a situation in which extraverted leaders had a negative impact on a team’s productivity. The authors refer to the notion “dominance complementarity”, in which vocal, powerful, and “dominant” persons, such as those who are highly extraverted, interfere with group activity where lots of information needs to shared among team members.

These sentiments were also reflected in a study entitled, “Which C.E.O. Characteristics and Abilities Matter?” by Steven Kaplan and collagues (summarized in the article, “In Praise of Dullness” by David Brooks in the NY Times), and of course by Jim Collins’ introduction of “Level 5 Leaders” in his popular book, Good to Great.

Beauducel, A., Brocke, B., & Leue, A. (2006). Energetical bases of extraversion: Effort, arousal, EEG, and performance. International Journal of Psychophysiology, 85, 232-236.

Bono, J. E., & Judge, T. A. (2004). Personality and transformational and transactional leadership: A meta-Analysis. Journal of Applied Psychology, 89, 901-910.

Costa, P. T., & McCrae, R. R. (1992). Revised NEO Personality Inventory (NEO-PI-R) and NEO Five Factor (NEO-FFI) Inventory Professional Manual. Odessa, FL: PAR.

DeNeve, K. M., & Cooper, H. (1998). The happy personality: A meta-analysis of 137 personality traits and subjective well-being. Psychological Bulletin, 124, 197-229.

Hogan, R., & Hogan, J. (2001). Assessing leadership: A view from the dark side. International Journal of Selection and Assessment, 9, 12-23.

Hogan, R., Curphy, G. J., & Hogan, J. (1994). What we know about leadership: Effectiveness and personality. American Psychologist, 49, 493-504.

Judge, T. A., Bono, J. E., Ilies, R., & Gerhardt, M. (2002). Personality and leadership: A qualitative and quantitative review. Journal of Applied Psychology, 87, 765-780.

Stogdill, R. M. (1948). Personal factors associated with leadership: A survey of the literature. Journal of Psychology, 25, 35-71.

About RFP

Ronald F. Piccolo is the Galloway Professor of Management at the University of Central Florida.