Why so few Medical leaders are introverts and what this means for healthcare

By Jacqueline Baxter: Professor of Public Leadership and Management at the Open University UK and Oxford Medical Tutor.

Introvert contemplating

Introversion and extroversion are personality traits that influence how individuals interact with the world. Traits of extroversion and introversion, first introduced by the famous psychologist Carl Jung, are generally characterised by garrulous outgoing and energetic behaviours in extroverts, whereas introverted characters are more likely to be calm, reflective and often prefer the written to the spoken medium.

In the medical profession, leadership roles often require effective communication, collaboration, and decision-making, which are traits commonly associated with extroversion. This has led to a perception that extroverts are more naturally suited for leadership positions not only in the medical field, but across the board. Having worked with doctors for the last 20 years, I have noticed that many of them are introverted in nature, and this can be challenging for them when it comes to stepping up for , or being appointed to leadership roles.

One reason why there may be fewer introverted medical leaders is the nature of medical education and training. Medical schools often emphasize teamwork, communication, and the ability to think on one’s feet—all qualities more closely aligned with extroversion  The rigorous and highly interactive nature of medical training can inadvertently favour extroverted individuals, shaping the leadership landscape in the profession.

In leadership roles within healthcare, there is often a need for assertiveness, networking, and external communication. These requirements may be challenging for introverts, who may prefer more introspective and contemplative approaches to problem-solving. The demands of engaging with diverse stakeholders, from patients to administrative staff, can be mentally draining for introverted leaders, potentially discouraging them from pursuing or thriving in such roles.

However, it’s essential to recognize that introversion does not equate to a lack of leadership skills. Introverts bring valuable qualities to the table, such as deep listening, thoughtful decision-making, and a focus on individualized attention. In a profession where patient-centered care is paramount, these introverted traits can be highly beneficial.

The underrepresentation of introverted medical leaders has implications for the overall dynamics of medical teams and organizational culture. A more diverse leadership team, which includes both introverted and extroverted individuals, could contribute to a richer and more balanced decision-making process. The integration of different communication styles and problem-solving approaches can enhance the overall effectiveness of trusts.

To address this imbalance, medical institutions need to look to implement leadership development programs that cater to diverse personality types. These programs could include training on effective communication for introverts, strategies for networking and relationship-building, and mentorship opportunities tailored to introverted individuals. By recognizing and nurturing the leadership potential of introverts, the medical profession can create a more inclusive and dynamic environment. Recognizing and valuing the unique strengths that introverts bring to the table is crucial for creating a healthcare system that effectively meets the needs of both healthcare professionals and the patients they serve.

Jacqueline Baxter is Professor of Public Leadership and Management at the Open University UK and has worked with Oxford Medical since 2009. Her research interests lie in personality and leadership, and how leaders use strategy development as a learning activity.