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The dangers of a leader who is too outgoing

Extroverts are often seen as natural leaders in organizations. But a new study suggests that some leaders may have too much of a good thing. Researchers found that informal leaders were liked and asked more for advice when they reached a middle "sweet spot" on levels of assertiveness and warmth, two facets of extroversion. Team members responded less favorably to leaders who scored high on assertiveness or warmth.

"Too extroverted leaders can come across as too pushy or too obnoxious," said the study's lead author. “A reasonable degree of assertiveness and warmth can be optimal.”

The study did find one factor that helped highly extroverted leaders get better grades from their peers:prosocial motivation, or the desire to look out for the well-being of others.

The researchers conducted two related studies. The first involved 260 business students who were randomly assigned to 78 self-managed teams. The students worked in their teams on various projects during a full semester. At the beginning of the semester, students rated themselves on two facets of extroversion. One was assertiveness, the desire to be dominant and powerful. The second was warmth, that's how friendly and outgoing they were. Students' prosocial motivation was measured by asking them how much they agreed with statements such as “I care about helping others through my work.”

Later in the semester, students rated each member of their team on how much leadership they showed in their group activities. Based on these assessments, the researchers chose the person on each team who most of their peers saw as the leader.

Team members also rated how much they liked each of their team members and how much they went to him or her for advice on solving problems related to their tasks.

A second, nearly identical study involved 337 employees on work teams at a large retail company in China. As with the students, these were self-governed teams without formal leaders.

Both studies had almost the same results.

Leaders who were extroverted were generally more liked and asked for advice from their team members – but only to a certain extent.

Leaders who rated themselves as very assertive or very warm tended to see how much their team members loved them and sought their advice.