Pretend You’re Good at it to Emerge as a Leader

Jenny Lawson and Neil Gaiman got it right; “pretend you’re good at it” enables introverted leaders to emerge. In a recent study, Spark et al. (2018) found that despite circumstances where introverted leadership may be beneficial, introverts tend to overestimate negative emotions of engaging in enough extraverted behavior to emerge as a leader. By strategically pushing yourself to pretend you’re good at “extraverting”, you can lead. In this post, we glean actionable insights from The failure of introverts to emerge as leaders: The role of forecasted affect (Spark et al., 2018) and related studies.

The Research

Leadership research consistently finds a relationship between extraversion and leadership. Because of this relationship, introverts are less likely to emerge as leaders (e.g., being perceived to influence decisions, lead conversations, or model desirable leadership) than their extraverted peers. However, there are many circumstances where an introverted leadership style would be advantageous. These include situations where a group benefits from a leader that serves, empowers, or teaches others in the group.

Spark et al. (2018) tested whether introverts fail to emerge as leaders as often as extraverts because they forecast unpleasant or uncomfortable emotions in group situations. The researchers again found a relationship between extraversion and emergent leadership. They also found that introverts were less likely to emerge as group leaders because the introverts forecasted they would experience higher levels of negative emotions (relating to statements such as: I will feel fearful, I will feel worried, I will feel distressed, I will feel upset, or I will feel nervous) than the extraverts forecasted. Notably, the introverts overestimated the level of negative emotions that they would experience within a group activity. This overestimation was thought to inhibit the introverts from behaving in a way that would enable them to emerge as leaders.

Other research (Zelenski et al., 2013), has found that introverts not only substantially overestimate negative emotions that would result from acting extraverted, they also underestimate positive emotions that would result from extraverted behavior. Introverts are less likely to engage in extroverted behaviors because of these forecasting errors – overestimating negative emotions and underestimating positive emotions. Yes, positive emotions from extraverted behavior. Fleeson et al. (2002) found that introverts experience positive emotions while engaged in extraverted behaviors.

Spark et al. (2018) stated that “if introverts can develop strategies to more accurately forecast their enjoyment of behavior more conducive to emergent leadership, then it is possible that such individuals will be on a level playing field with extraverts in relevant social situations.”

Putting it into Action

To emerge as a group leader, you’re going to have to push yourself to engage in some extraverted behavior. Jenny Lawson in her book Furiously Happy, recounts a story about being nervous before narrating her book. Her friend Neil Gaiman suggests that she just pretend she was good at it. The advice helped Jenny; I’ve adopted this mindset often and found it wonderfully helpful. You can leverage this advice by pretending you’re good at “extraverting”. You can use temporary extraversion as a tool. There’s no need to deny who you are or try to change your core personality.

Choose what and when you want to lead, grab extraversion from the toolbox, put it to use, and advance your objectives. Take some comfort in knowing that your negative emotions will be far less than you think, you’re likely to experience positive emotions, and the group will also benefit from your contribution. 

Here are a few tips to help you exercise some extraverted group behavior:

  1. Prepare [as an introvert you’ll prepare without my prompting] by creating the agenda, a draft product, or some insightful questions
  2. Speak very early in the group (this is important and supported by research)
  3. Grab the dry erase marker to capture ideas and attention

Give it a try; use extraversion as a strategic tool to provide the thoughtful leadership your group needs. Please share your experiences with other readers of this blog.


Fleeson, W., Malanos, A. B., & Achille, N. M. (2002). An Intraindividual Process Approach to the Relationship Between Extraversion and Positive Affect : Is Acting Extraverted as “ Good ” as Being Extraverted? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology83(6), 1409–1422.

Spark, A., Stansmore, T., & O’Connor, P. (2018). The failure of introverts to emerge as leaders: The role of forecasted affect. Personality and Individual Differences121, 84–88.

Zelenski, J. M., Whelan, D. C., Nealis, L. J., Besner, C. M., Santoro, M. S., & Wynn, J. E. (2013). Personality and Affective Forecasting: Trait Introverts Underpredict the Hedonic Benefits of Acting Extraverted. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology104(6), 1092–1108.

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