Xolopreneurs: You don’t have to be an extravert to be a great leader

Mark Travers
Written by Mark Travers
on March 23, 2022 2 minute read

New research shows that it’s communication skill, not extraversion, that makes for a great leader.

Much of our success in business is based on our ability to build strong relationships with clients and colleagues. In previous articles, I’ve explored the things that can set Xolopreneurs apart on these dimensions, For instance, we know that:

  • Expressing long-term commitment to our clients and colleagues encourages group cohesion and stability
  • Giving colleagues space to pursue their own ideas even when we might not agree with them strengthens our ties with others

We also know that Xolopreneurs possess personality traits that make them particularly well-positioned for career success. For example, Xolopreneurs tend to be:

  • More self-confident than most (but not in a boastful or conceited way)
  • Emotionally stable and clear-sighted, possessing a natural ability to cope with complicated and/or ambiguous situations
  • Somewhat impulsive, but in a way that allows you to spot a trend before it becomes mainstream

And, new research published in the Journal of Applied Psychology teaches Xolopreneurs not to doubt their leadership potential even if they don’t feel like they fit the classic ‘extraverted’ leader mold.

“For years, introverts have been told that they're at a disadvantage, compared to extraverts, in terms of being viewed as leaders,” comments James Lemoine, Associate Professor at the University at Buffalo School of Management in the United States and lead author of the study. “This was troublesome because extraversion is not really something that can be taught; it's a relatively stable personality difference. If this was true, then there would be nothing introverts could do to resolve or improve that disadvantage. But our research shows that it's communication skill, not extraversion, that is the important driver of leadership perceptions. That's important because communication skills can be learned, which means anyone can develop their communication skills to enhance their leadership potential.”


To arrive at this conclusion, the researchers recruited over 400 university undergraduates to take part in a group decision-making study. They split participants into small groups and asked them to consider various initiatives being proposed by a fictitious company. Participants were asked to discuss the merits of each initiative with other members of their group.

After discussing the initiatives, participants rated each other on a measure of leadership potential (i.e., To what extent did you rely on [participant name] for leadership?” 1 = not at all; 5 = to a great extent). Participants also filled out a scale measuring trait extraversion. Finally, the researchers videotaped the conversations so they could evaluate each member’s communication skills.

The results showed that communication, not extraversion, was the key factor driving perceptions of leadership potential — and that extraverts weren’t any better at communicating in the group setting than introverts. In fact, in certain cases, introverts and ambiverts had the upper hand.

“Some research shows that introverts may have advantages in many leadership situations, such as when more deliberate and methodical paces are appropriate,” says Lemoine.

Other new research goes one step further, encouraging people who grapple with social anxiety to meet people and forge new relationships. Not only will this help them in their business endeavors, but they’ll also feel better.

"Quality contact with other people serves as a reliable mood enhancement strategy," say the authors, led by Fallon Goodman of the University of South Florida. “Contrary to lay belief, we found that people with social anxiety were happier when with others than alone. Feeling anxious or concerned about socializing does not preclude experiencing pleasure while socializing."

Final thoughts

You don’t need to be an extravert to be a successful entrepreneurial leader. Developing your communication skills, and not letting social anxieties prevent you from taking advantage of networking opportunities, are great places to focus your attention.    


About Mark

Mark Travers, Ph.D., is an American Psychologist with degrees from Cornell University and the University of Colorado Boulder. Xolo helps him run his online therapy practice, www.awake-therapy.me, from whatever part of the world he is currently living in.