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OSU study: Extroverts not the best leaders

Special to the Legal News

Published: May 15, 2019

Extroverted leaders and the individuals who comprise the organizations they guide may suffer from too much of a good thing, an Ohio State University-led study found.

Often considered natural leaders, extroverts who rank high in assertiveness and warmth tend to turn off team members who prefer a more informal, approachable leader.

"Overly extroverted leaders can come across as too pushy or too annoying," said Jia "Jasmine" Hu, lead author of the study and associate professor of management and human resources at The Ohio State University's Fisher College of Business. "A moderate amount of assertiveness and warmth may be optimal."

The one factor researchers found that helped highly extroverted leaders receive better marks from their peers: Prosocial motivation, or the desire to look out for others' welfare, a press release noted.

Researchers compared and contrasted the results of two exercises - one involving business undergraduate students, the other employees at a large Chinese retail company - in which participants were divided into self-managed teams.

Prosocial motivation levels were measured and individuals rated fellow team members on leadership abilities.

Additionally, team members rated how much they liked each of their team members and how much they went to him or her for advice in solving problems related to their tasks, the press release continued.

Both exercises had very similar results, researchers found.

Leaders who were extroverted tended to be better liked and more sought after for advice by their team members - but only up to a point. Leaders who rated themselves as very assertive or very warm tended to see a drop-off in how much their fellow team members liked them and sought their advice.

Hu said it was a case of too much of a good thing.

"If you're too assertive as a team member, people think you're pushy and they don't like that," she said. "And if you're too warm and friendly, that can be overwhelming for others who feel pressured to respond in the same enthusiastic way."

But fellow employees can put up with more extroversion if they think you're doing it for others.

"If you're prosocially motivated, people see more benefits to your assertiveness and warmth. They know you're not doing it just to promote yourself, but have a genuine interest in the whole team. That means a lot," Hu said.

While the study, the results of which appear online in the Journal of Applied Psychology, was done with informal leaders, Hu said she believes the results could also apply to formally chosen supervisors. And she noted that even in teams with formal bosses, informal leaders like those in this study often emerge and play a key role in a team's success.

Co-authors on the study were Kaifeng Jiang, associate professor of management and human resources at Ohio State's Fisher College; Zhen Zhang of Arizona State University; and Wansi Chen of East China University of Science and Technology.

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