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Why Introverted Leaders Are Ideal for the Post pandemic Workplace

As an extrovert, I hate to admit it, but charisma really doesn’t improve a firm’s performance

By LEIGH THOMPSON
Mon, Jan 29, 2024 9:01amGrey Clock 3 min

Leigh Thompson is the J. Jay Gerber Professor of Dispute Resolution and Organizations and a director of executive-education programs at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. She is the author of several books, including “Negotiating the Sweet Spot: The Art of Leaving Nothing on the Table.”

I’m an extrovert and I admit I’ve benefited from it.

Outgoing people are more likely to be noticed, selected as leaders and awarded “halo” traits—meaning that other people just assume extroverts are more likeable, intelligent and have other positive qualities. But as a social scientist, I can’t ignore the research: Most of these beliefs about extroverts simply aren’t true.

Studies show that introverts and extroverts are equally effective in academic and corporate environments, and that there is no actual relation between CEO charisma and firm performance.

Yet the misconceptions about extroverts persist, making them more likely to be chosen as leaders over their more introverted peers. That’s unfortunate because in our post pandemic world, replete with remote work, hybrid communication, far-flung team members, artificial intelligence and global disruption, introverts are particularly well-equipped to lead.

That may be hard to believe because of two persistent myths.

First is the widely held stereotype that effective leaders are gregarious, alpha and comfortable in the spotlight, even craving that attention. In reality, the social skills that extroverts display aren’t necessarily predictive of capable leadership.

Second is the belief that quieter people lack leadership skills. They are seen as less social, unassertive, sad and disconnected. Indeed, in a recent study in which people in different groups were instructed to “act like an extrovert” or “act like an introvert” regardless of their actual personalities, those who acted extroverted were disproportionately selected for leadership. And, interestingly, those who pretended to be introverted in that study reported feeling sad.

Both of these myths ignore the reality that introversion, far from being simply a lack of extroversion, is a distinct set of traits with its own large merits. This was true well before the pandemic, but the remote-work environment illuminated the bias even more and highlighted the need to change our perceptions.

Here are five reasons why introverts could be ideal leaders in the redefined workplace.

1.Remote-work performance. Extroverts’ job performance declined when the pandemic forced many businesses to go remoteA study of remote workers found that extroverted employees became less productive, less engaged and less satisfied with their jobs. A separate study found that team average extroversion had a large negative effective on team performance—that is, the more extroverted the team members were as a group, the worse they performed.

2. Dealing with adversity and change. Introverts show a greater capacity to engage, think through and make wise choices during periods of adversity and change. A recent investigation found that introverts had more positive attitudes toward AI and using AI overall than did extroverts. A separate study found that during periods of high conflict, extroverts develop fewer energising relationships with their teammates and aren’t viewed as proactively contributing to the team. Introverts, however, often possess a predisposition for things like empathy and thoughtful communication—all critical for navigating team dynamics and conflict in tough times.

3. Creativity. Introverts’ creativity flows well in the quiet aftermath of group interactions, positioning them as formidable leaders for innovative and reflective tasks. In studies of communication and conflict, introverts’ tendency to think before speaking was seen to yield more creative solutions.

4.Avoiding avoidance. Most humans approach positive things and avoid negative things. Sounds like a good policy—unless we’re talking about workplace challenges. Research has shown that extroverts commit more passive avoidance errors—that is, when the going gets tough, they tend to avoid the situation altogether; meanwhile introverts are more likely to inspect the half-empty glass or the disappointing customer-satisfaction data, generating insights and solutions.

5. Resilience against quitting. A study of over 200 people revealed a correlation between extroversion and burnout—that is, the more extroverted a person reported themselves to be, the more likely they were to burn out. Introversion, on the other hand, was uncorrelated with burnout, suggesting better immunity.



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The S&P 500 index has been crushing private-equity returns in the past year, and Blackstone ’s second-quarter results illustrate that trend.

As part of its earnings release early Thursday Blackstone said its corporate private-equity returns in the year ending in June were 11.3%. That compares with a 24.5% total return for the S&P 500.

In the prior year ending in June 2023, the S&P 500 topped Blackstone with a 19.4% return against 9.7% for the firm’s corporate private-equity business, which has $145 billion of assets and remains one of its most important areas along with real estate.

Blackstone is the leading alternatives firm with over $1 trillion in assets under management and has the largest market value of any public investment firm at more than $160 billion.

Driven by Nvidia , Microsoft , Apple , Amazon and other big technology stocks, the S&P 500 has handily topped most asset classes in the past several years.

Another sign of more difficult times for private equity came earlier this week from Calpers, the $503 billion California pension fund, when it reported it s preliminary returns for its fiscal year ending in June . Calpers is one of the first major endowments or pension funds to report results for the June fiscal year. undefined The pension fund, a major player in private equity, said its private-equity investments gained 10.9% net of fees—although that figure is lagged one quarter. Calpers’ public-equity investments were up 17.5% in the year ended June—its strongest asset class. Private equity remains a favorite of many pension funds and leading university endowments like those of Harvard and Yale. Their view is that private equity can beat public-market returns over the long term.

But the private-equity business has gotten tougher in recent years due to keen competition for deals, higher interest rates and a less receptive IPO market, which has made exits tougher.

And private-equity portfolios of firms like Blackstone look nothing like the S&P 500, given their investments in small to midsize companies.

Blackstone, for instance, bought a majority stake in Emerson’s climate technologies business last year and more recently purchased Tropical Smoothie, a franchiser of fast-casual cafes. It also holds a stake in Bumble, the publicly traded online dating site, and it’s an investor in actress Reese Witherspoon’s media company, Hello Sunshine. Blackstone’s corporate private-equity business runs $145 billion and has 82 investments, according to the firm’s website.

Blackstone’s private-equity business has strong long-term returns including a gain of over 50% in the year ended in June 2021 when it handily topped the S&P 500 index.

But the S&P 500 index has become difficult to beat more recently and it’s dominated by some of the best companies in the world. It carries less risk than private equity, given the cash-rich balance sheets of its leading companies like Apple , Microsoft and Alphabet .

Private-equity firms, by contrast, often use considerable leverage to boost returns. Investors can get exposure to the S&P 500 through index funds that charge 0.1% or less in annual fees and with immediate liquidity.

A key risk with the S&P 500 is its vulnerability to a selloff in the leading tech firms that now make up over 40% of the index. The recent rotation into smaller companies illustrates that.

Blackstone shares gained 1.1% to $136.31 Thursday in the wake of its earnings news as investors focused on rising investment deployments and positive management comments on the firm’s outlook.

The firm’s nearly $40 billion of inflows and $34 billion of capital deployment during the second quarter marked “the highest level of investment activity in two years,” Chief Executive Officer Stephen Schwarzman said in a statement.

Citi analyst Christopher Allen wrote in a note to clients on Thursday that while Blackstone’s overall performance was mixed, the outlook appears to be improving given fund-raising and deployment trends.

Investors also were heartened by Blackstone President Jon Gray’s comments about a bottoming in commercial real estate and strong capital deployment in that area.

But ultimately, the game for Blackstone and its alternatives peers is about performance—particularly beating low-fee public investments like the S&P 500. That seems to be getting more difficult.