Part 1: Understanding inversion and extroversion in management consulting
You might have heard that successful management consultants have superior communication skills, that they’re quick thinkers and nimble problem-solvers.
You might believe that management consultants are blessed with the stamina to work all day and the social skills to effortlessly unwind with clients long after regular business hours.
And you might have heard somebody mention, ruefully, that management consultants are all ambitious, Type A personalities with a bottomless reservoir of confidence and drive. It’s a profession where introverts need not apply, they say.
In this two-part series, we will break down the two personality types, define what makes a good management consultant, and how to use your strengths and develop your weaknesses to thrive within the industry, whether you’re an introvert or extrovert.
Introverts: Who are they?
Notions of introversion and extroversion entered the business world in 1943 with the publication of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, a personality-typing tool that became widely used to improve group dynamics and aid the hiring process in large organizations.
According to the American Psychological Association, introverts are “relatively more withdrawn, retiring, reserved, quiet, and deliberate; they may tend to mute or guard expression of positive affect, adopt more sceptical views or positions, and prefer to work independently.”
Introversion and shyness are related but distinct concepts. Shyness describes negative feelings that individuals have about themselves, arising most often from a concern about being negatively judged by others. These feelings cause shy people to withdraw from social interactions. Introversion refers to motives disfavoring social interaction, while shyness refers to behaviour during social interaction.
Can introverts make good management consultants?
Opinions like the one expressed by Alan Leaman, former chair of the UK-based Management Consultancies Association, in a 2013 article for the Guardian, are typical:
The demands of consultancy often mean meeting tough targets on time. The majority of work is client-facing and you will be under pressure to deliver—if you’re the shy and retiring type, this is probably not a good career for you.
Typical, yes, but is Leaman correct? Can introverts be successful management consultants?
The answer, surprisingly, is yes.
Strongly introvertive personalities may struggle, at least at first, with presentations, long hours with clients, and with the ever-present imperative of bringing in new business. That’s true. But introverts also possess qualities that companies covet in a management consultant. They tend to have greater technical skills than extroverts, they’re often methodical, deliberate decision-makers, and—crucially—they’re more likely to listen to the client before offering a solution to a business problem.
Extroverts: Who are they?
Extroverts are highly engaged persons who derive energy from the “outer world” of events and activities, and who thrive in the company of other people. They are “people persons.” They tend to have large social networks, enjoy making presentations, and have a tendency to attack projects by jumping in quickly and solving problems on the fly.
Extroversion looks successful to others, and it is commonly associated with business success and leadership. One recent summary of the psychological research to date noted that extroverts are relatively more motivated by rewards in the workplace, “especially rewards associated with status.” Within an extremely meritocratic and hierarchical industry, like management consulting, this motivation can often lead to quick success for those leaning towards extroversion.
However, extroversion is not an indispensable personality trait for consulting or business success. We know from the triumphs of self-described introverts such as Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and many others that introversion and business acumen are not mutually exclusive traits. In his best-selling study of winning business organizations, Good to Great, consultant and researcher Jim Collins asserts that the majority of successful chief executive officers are introverts.
With a better understanding of extroversion and the misconception, that shyness and introversion are related it’s clear that personality type is not indicative of one's success within the industry. In Part 2, we explore what qualities make for successful consultants and provide useful development tips for both personality types.
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