Introverted vs. Extroverted Internal Audit Leaders: Which One Are You?
A few weeks ago, Audit International met with a self-described “introverted” business leader. This business leader confided to us that introverted individuals have a harder time climbing the corporate ladder. The individual went further in claiming that recent research shows that it is worst for women, as introverted women are seen as less assertive and lacking in leadership traits.
Conversely, the business leader pointed out that recent research also shows that introverted individuals actually make better leaders, but because they are not as assertive as their extroverted counterparts, they are not equally represented in leadership positions. That took a minute for us to reflect on. It was one of the most thought-provoking discussions we’ve had in recent weeks.
Curious by the proposition and wanting to see what statistics we could get on the topic ourselves, we set out to create several online polls. Initially, we just asked a simple question:
Do you consider yourself an introvert or an extrovert? Here are three things we learned from asking that and some follow-up questions:
People Do Not Like Binary Options on Personality Traits
In two separate polls across different platforms, we received similar feedback:
“No room for those who don’t fall into these binary groups?” was one of the first responses.
“Some people vary based on their environment,” and “I believe there should be space in between the two,” were two responses that quickly followed.
“Do you have a definition of introverts and extroverts?” was the last question.
Even when we tried to foolishly define the terms we were met with a big, “it depends.”
Lastly, we received the one-word response that took my approach in a different direction: “ambivert.”
The Power of the Ambivert
A full 70 to 80 percent of internal audit professionals considered themselves introverts when only given two choices on the introvert vs. extrovert spectrum. However, in follow-up polls, when the ambivert option was introduced, the results were different. Vastly different. Nearly half of the introverts from the initial polls now classified themselves as ambiverts. Ambiverts were now, in two separate polls, the largest group.
So, what does that mean?
Maybe we’re being foolish again, but here is our theory: Introverted ambiverts are those who usually keep to themselves and don’t brag about their accomplishments, but when the stars align and the spotlight is on them, they shine.
When Audit International first started in the internal audit profession, we worked with two introverted gentlemen. They generally kept to themselves in the day-to-day audit process. But, when they led projects, they had absolute killer instincts.
In that group, they audited the Latin America region, so depending on the country visited they would switch from English to Spanish or Portuguese and back to English with pure finesse. Audit clients would be at ease with their approach and communication style. Anyone who had only known them for that period would swear they were extroverted individuals. But they were not. They were ambiverts.
And that is the power of the ambivert: Killer instincts when it matters.
Extroverts Are Disproportionately Represented in Leadership Positions
Back to the business leader’s proposition that introverted individuals get the short end of the stick when it comes to leadership positions. Was that the case? Based on my poll results, yes.
Extroverts represented approximately one-fourth of the sample population of internal audit professionals. However, they represent one-third of those professionals in leadership positions. Introverts, excluding those with ambivert traits, represented over a third of the sample population of internal audit professionals, but only 10 percent of those in leadership positions. These statistics can be even more accentuated when it comes to female leaders.
A burning question then came to mind. Do extroverts make better leaders? Would that be the reason they are overrepresented in those positions?
Audit International set out to attempt to answer that by asking the community about their experience with their previous leaders. Were their best leaders introverts or extroverts? For this last poll, we purposefully left the ambivert option out.
The results? Extroverts were slightly at an advantage, 53 percent versus 47 percent. In other words, the “best” leader being an introvert or extrovert had close to the same likelihood as the flip of a coin.
How come we don’t have more introverted leaders if they are just as good as extrovert ones?
We don’t have any statistics there but, in my opinion, it’s likely because extroverts are seen as better communicators, and being a good communicator is a sought-out trait in effective leaders.
Should Introverts Lose all Hope?
No. Introverts in some circumstances may have an advantage over extroverts. Another reason is that in [internal audit], passion for the role is important to the impact that you can have on the organization. An introvert has to put a bit more effort into the work than an extrovert does, and I’ve seen several times where this translated to the level of commitment and effectiveness to the role.”
It might even be concluded that an introvert displays more active listening skills and empathy, which is also essential in leadership roles.
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