“Always be yourself, express yourself, have faith in yourself, do not go out and look for a successful personality and duplicate it” (Bruce Lee)

I don’t like categorising people or their personalities – I find this limiting and potentially derogatory. This is particularly true of the “extrovert” or “introvert” categories that we sometimes use to describe our team members, a dichotomy that reflects a rather outdated and tired view of personality. Personality traits exist along a continuum or a spectrum, and the vast majority of us aren’t introverts or extroverts—we fall somewhere in the middle (ambiverts, a word I researched after it had been mentioned by a new friend I had just met).

Adam Grant (Wharton) set out to study this phenomenon, and his findings are fascinating. Firstly, he found that two-thirds of people don’t strongly identify as introverts or extroverts. These people are called ambiverts, who have both introverted and extroverted tendencies. The direction ambiverts lean toward varies greatly, depending on the situation. Secondly, Grant’s research also disproved the powerful and widely held notion that the best-performing salespeople are extroverts. He found that ambiverts’ greater social flexibility enabled them to outsell all other groups, moving 51% more product per hour than the average salesperson. Grant explained the finding this way: “Because they naturally engage in a flexible pattern of talking and listening, ambiverts are likely to express sufficient assertiveness and enthusiasm to persuade and close a sale but are more inclined to listen to customers’ interests and less vulnerable to appearing too excited or overconfident.”

Travis Bradberry (Forbes) notes about personality: “Personality consists of a stable set of preferences and tendencies through which we approach the world. Personality traits form at an early age and are fixed by early adulthood. Many important things about you change over the course of your lifetime, but your personality isn’t one of them”. Bradberry thus suggests that it is important to be aware of where you fall on the extroversion/introversion continuum to be able to develop a better sense of your tendencies and play to your strengths.

There are no right or wrong personality types and all have strengths and weaknesses, but as a leader, we need to have the skill to manage our tendencies to be effective. For example, again as Bradberry notes: “At a networking event, a self-aware ambivert will lean toward the extroverted side of the scale, even when it has been a long day and he or she has had enough of people. Mismatching your approach to the situation can be frustrating, ineffective, and demoralising for ambiverts”.

For leaders, there seem to be two key factors when it comes to managing personality types:

  1. Self-awareness – being able to understand and manage your own leadership approach so as neither to control or dominate team members, nor passively allow team members to dominate or control the team’s operational context. Focus on using the diversity and personal giftedness of your team members.
  2. Psychological safety – creating an emotionally safe environment where extroverts, ambiverts and introverts can all play meaningful roles and contribute fully. Inclusivity is encouraged when people feel that there is a safe platform for them to be heard.

Leaders should play to the strengths of all team members, regardless of their respective personality types. More importantly, creating a psychologically safe environment enables all team members (no matter where they fall on the personality continuum) to contribute more fully to the team’s goals and aspirations.

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