Despite both being characteristics which are promoted in many organizations, leadership extraversion and employee proactivity are uneasy bedfellows. This research suggests that extraverted leaders are less receptive to proactivity, and that they may only enhance group performance when employees are passive.
A research study set out to examine how effective extraverted leadership actually is on group performance, and what characteristics on the part of employees also play a role in this. This is extraversion as described as ‘a tendency to engage in behaviours that place oneself at the centre of attention, such as seeking status and acting dominant, assertive, outgoing and talkative.’
The study challenges the perception that simply leading in an extraverted manner is the key to success. And rather that levels of employee proactivity in conjunction with leadership styles play a vital role in group performance.
In order to test this, they undertook two studies:
They found that the highest level of group performance was achieved either when a lack of proactivity from employees was paired with a more extroverted leadership style, or vice versa. When both employees and leaders acted in a more dominant manner, or when neither acted in this way, group performance was hindered.
The researchers are careful to note that extraversion is a multifaceted trait, highlighting that they did not unpack which particular facets were responsible for the effects observed, thus paving the way for further research to enable a deeper understanding of this subject.
Nevertheless, they were able to show that whether employees’ proactive behaviours increase or decrease group performance depends on how extraverted the leadership is, thereby presenting a new perspective on employee proactivity as a contingency for leadership effects.
As a rule organizations promote both extraverted leadership and employee proactivity equally. However, these findings suggest combining these two characteristics may in fact yield suboptimal group performance; group performance is maximized when highly extraverted leadership is paired with less proactive employee behaviour, or when less extraverted leadership is matched with more proactive employee behaviour.
It is clearly difficult for highly extraverted leaders to be the centre of attention when employees are proactive; similarly, it is equally difficult for proactive employees to instigate bottom-up change when highly extraverted leaders impose their ideas.
Employees should try to make particular efforts to voice suggestions, take charge, and exert upward influence when working with less extraverted leaders. They may also go so far as to seek out such leaders as audiences for their proactive ideas.
Reversing the Extraverted Leadership Advantage: The Role of Employee Proactivity. Adam M. Grant, Francesca Gino & David A. Hofmann. Academy of Management Journal (June 2011).
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