It sort of makes business sense to give roles that require leadership, authority and influence to people who are naturally outgoing, assertive and sociable, doesn’t it?
After all, we usually think that a leader needs to be able to take control of the situation and be ‘firm but fair’ when making difficult decisions.
But management practice is full is misconceptions
And this preference for giving leadership roles to people who are outspoken is one of them.
Research conducted by Fletcher and Baldry (2000) asked employees to rate themselves and one another on their behaviour at work. For example they assessed which employees enhanced teamwork or initiated improvements.
One important finding was that individuals who were sociable, rather than reserved were significantly more likely to overrate themselves. That is, their perception of their own behaviour didn’t match the evaluations of their colleagues.
And when it comes to leadership roles, these same outgoing, assertive people may not be the most suitable. Why is that? The Fletcher and Baldry study found that extroverted people seldom take time to ponder or reflect upon the events that transpire. So they may make the same mistakes over and over because they never really learn from prior outcomes.
Extroverts don’t always make good leaders
Additionally when the extroverted person receives praise they are less likely to consider the purpose for the feedback (or even consider it may be provided for manipulative reasons). Similarly when faced with a colleague being upset they are less likely to consider the source of the poor mood, and may not recognise the possibility that some of their own behaviour was responsible.
Perpetuating the problem are executives who tend to seek managers – or appoint people into management roles – who are self-assured and commanding. However scientific study has shown (Mills, Cooper, Forest 2002) that assertive and dominating people can provoke workplace consequences if they are not sensitive to the potential impact they have on their team.
Employees do not expect their managers to have the same opinions as themselves. However they may feel threatened and vulnerable due to the managers forceful presence and opposing ideas, and may start to undermine the managers decisions in response.
Recognising fact versus opinion
While some of these findings may appear to be common sense, the important thing to remember is that this issue has been confirmed by scientific study. It’s not just someone’s opinion that you shouldn’t automatically assume an extroverted person will perform better in a leadership role, it’s been proven.
Tips for assigning roles appropriately
Here are a few research-backed tips that might make it easier for you to give the right roles to the right people.
For people who are assertive, commanding and confidant: give them fewer subordinates to manage. That way there will be fewer potential interpersonal impacts for them to be aware of.
For people who are anxious: assign them to roles that require caution such as risk management or injury prevention. Their natural tendency to anticipate obstacles, possible problems and complications will be an asset.
For people who are unpredictable or eccentric: Use their unique insights to develop creative solutions and transcend traditions or conventions that limit the thinking of others.
For people who are unstable or awkward: even though they may not appear to manage their emotions effectively, and may seem impulsive or insensitive, research has identified their strengths lie in being more likely to show commitment towards jobs that involve minimal interaction, companionship and communication.