Act like an ambivert to be an effective leader

Being the most selfie-d Prime Minister, many may perceive Justin Trudeau to be an extrovert.  

To his surprise, Professor Karl Moore found out in his interview with the charming Canadian Prime Minister that he is very much an introvert that acts like an extrovert because of his leadership position.

Prof Moore was at Monash University Malaysia recently to speak on the topic of ‘Introverts and Extroverts as Great Leaders’. It was an event organised by the School of Business, together with the World Economic Forum – Global Shapers Kuala Lumpur.

In his many interviews with senior executives, Prof Moore found that many prominent leaders are in fact introverts, contrary to what people normally expect a leader to be in the past.

In his research, he also found that more than 30% of over 300 C-suite executives are introverts. The figure is almost half for those at the middle- and first-line manager ranks. Giving the examples of Trudeau and Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus, he said both leaders are introverted but display the characteristics of an extrovert because of their positions and work they do.

“If you are a leader, you have to act like an ambivert. An ambivert is someone who at times, acts like an introvert, and at other times, behave like an extrovert. An ambivert is both an introvert and an extrovert. He or she has the strength of both.

“In leadership, there are times you need to be both an extrovert and an introvert,” he said.

Prof Moore illustrated this point by sharing about a couple - where the husband is an extrovert who likes to rush into decisions, while his wife is one who talks and thinks through decisions.

“When a vehicle only has brake, it doesn’t move. If it only has gas, it will run into brick walls. But when they work together, they make a great team,” he said.

Similarly, he said an introverted leader has got to act like an extrovert to be an effective leader.

“Being a leader means that a person is constantly being in the centre of attraction and he needs to be able to recognise people because that is the right leadership thing to do.

“In contrary, if you are an extrovert like me, we need to learn to shut up, listen more, and not dominate,” he said.

Prof Moore suggests that introvert leaders must recognise the need to take breaks, after they have taken an extrovert approach.

“Introverts are drawn to the inner role of thinking and thought. They like to think things through and reflect on how things fit together. They recharge by being alone,” he said.

Similarly, extroverts take breaks too when they have “acted like an introvert for a while.” However, the breaks they take are completely opposite from those of an introvert as they may go to the cafeteria at their workplace to chat with people.

“Extroverts look for rewards because they stimulate their responsive brains and they are likely to take risky behaviours because of that,” he said.

However, Prof Moore also warned the audience of labeling each person simply as extrovert; introvert, or ambivert as “human beings are much more complex than that.”

He said while our genetic makeup may play a huge role in determining our characters, our cultural backgrounds and environment would also influence the way we behave.

“In the US, it is a more extroverted country and in comparison, Malaysia is a more introverted one,” he said.

Prof Moore is currently attached to McGill University. He has taught extensively in executive education and MBA programs with leading universities including Oxford, London Business School, Cambridge, Darden, Cornell, INSEAD, Duke, the Drucker School, the Rotterdam School of Management, IIM Bangalore, Queen's, and McGill.

Recently, he was nominated for the 2017 Thinkers50 Distinguished Achievement Awards in the Leadership Category as a top thinker in the area for his work on introverts/extroverts in the C-Suite & Millennials.