Introverts: Why They Actually Miss Leadership Chances

November 29, 2017 Richard Justenhoven
introverts miss leadership chances

The misperception by introverts of what it means to be a leader

It’s well known that extraverts are more likely to emerge as leaders than introverts; their personality tends to be more outgoing and attention seeking, while introverts like to stay in the background. However, some introverts might be better qualified for leadership positions than extraverts – and yet, they may actively avoid leadership opportunities.

The three scientists Spark, Stansmore and O’Connor from Queensland University of Technology suggest that this may be because introverts start at a different place than extroverts. Introverts have a built in expectation that group tasks (in which one tends to have to be outgoing and put ideas forward to the group) are unpleasant – and this leads them to avoid leadership behaviour.

But Spark and his colleagues say that we can help the introverts amongst us to step up and onto the leadership career ladder simply by helping them to realise that leadership tasks may be more enjoyable than they think.

The research

In their experiment, Spark and his colleagues asked 184 undergraduate students to complete a personality questionnaire before taking part in a group task. In this, they had to take group decisions about survival priorities on the moon but before they started the task, they had to rate whether they would find it ‘fun’ or ‘scary’. After the group task they rated each other for emergent leadership, such as “he/she influenced group decisions”.

This study supported previous work which found that extraverts tend to emerge as leaders more so than introverts. They also showed that introverts actually expect being a leader – and the task of leadership – to be more stressful and daunting than there extravert colleagues. Drawing on earlier research by Zelenski et al in which when introverts act like an extrovert, they tend to enjoy it more than they think they will. Perhaps they may enjoy leadership-related behaviours more than they expect – and would then be more likely to move into leadership positions. It is a matter of changing their expectations of the role.

But Spark and his colleagues do acknowledge that more needs to be researched about this topic. Nonetheless, it is interesting to consider how the potential leader is perceiving the role when looking, planning or assessing for new leaders.


Spark, A., Stansmore, T., & O’Connor, P. (2017). The failure of introverts to emerge as leaders: The role of forecasted affect. Personality and Individual Differences, 121, 84-88.

Zelenski, J.M., Whelan, D.C., Nealis, L.J., Besner, C.M., Santoro, M.S., Wynn, J.E. (2015) Personality and affective forecasting: trait introverts underpredict the hedonic benefits of acting extraverted. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 104(6), 1092-108.

About the Author

Richard Justenhoven

Richard Justenhoven is the product development director within Aon's Assessment Solutions. A leading organizational psychologist, Richard is an acknowledged expert in the design, implementation and evaluation of online assessments and a sought after speaker about such topics.

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