A leader is someone who commands attention, has all the answers, and motivates people to accomplish a specific goal. The best leaders also share leadership, ask important questions, and actively listen to others.
More often than not, when we think of an effective leader, we also think of an extrovert. But this does not mean introverts can’t be effective leaders. In fact, introverts can be more effective leading simply because they may be better at listening.
This is not to suggest extroverts aren’t capable of listening well. The most extroverted leaders can be excellent listeners if they avoid dominating discussions and encourage others to share their thoughts. If a leader is not giving adequate airtime to others and engaged in hearing the ideas and arguments of others, he or she is not going to encourage proactivity.
“When we select leaders, we don’t usually pick the person with the strongest leadership skills,” writes Adam Grant in his book Hidden Potential: The Science of Achieving Greater Things. “We frequently choose the person who talks the most. It’s called the babble effect. Research shows that groups promote the people who command the most airtime—regardless of their aptitude and expertise.”
If you’re like me you may have found this to be the case in your current or previous workplace.
“We mistake confidence for competence, certainty for credibility, and quantity for quality,” continues Grant. “We get stuck following people who dominate the discussion instead of those who elevate it.”
In a research study conducted by Grant and his colleagues, they sought to examine whether extraverts were more effective leaders than introverts. He found that the ideal leadership style is actually more nuanced, and what made for effective leadership depended on how proactive a team was.
This proactivity means team members were engaged in problem solving and ideation without waiting for their leader to intervene. It means team members felt their leader had confidence in their competence and trust that they were collectively capable of coming to the best solutions.
“But when teams were proactive, bringing many ideas and suggestions to the table, it was introverts who led them to achieve greater things,” writes Grant. “The more reserved leaders came across as more receptive to input from below, which gave them access to better ideas and left their teams more motivated. With a team of sponges, the best leader is not the person who talks the most, but the one who listens best.”
Learning to actively listen is one of the most common behaviors leaders seek to improve upon in my coaching practice. Too often people mistakenly believe it’s important to speak more than listen to best demonstrate value. However, as one rises into leadership, it is more often the questions that elevate conversations and engage in greater discussions that lead to better solutions. That’s value.
This takes practice and the belief that your team has the ability to contribute effectively. By engaging each of your people and showing appreciation for their contributions, you will build confidence in their collective competence. They will then be viewed as a proactive team and you as their effective leader.