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A recent study from the University of Missouri found, perhaps unsurprisingly, that extroverts and people who exhibit proactive behavior are more likely to find career success.

But don’t take this as condemnation to a life of low success, introverts. See, extroverts aren’t inherently successful in ant mysterious, ineffable way. Rather, they simply tend to engage in certain behaviors that lead to career success, a big one being that they pursue developmental relationships.

“Those who are extroverted and have a proactive personality are naturally more likely to develop mentor relationships,” explains MU Trulaske College of Business Professor Daniel Turban in a press release.

It makes sense: Extroverts tend to be more outgoing; therefore, they’re more likely to meet and forge connections with people who can become their mentors.

Turban, the researcher behind these findings, says that the study doesn’t so much prove extroverts are more successful as it does identify the mechanisms through which proactive behavior lead to career success.

“We know personality has an effect on outcomes of value – in this case, career success,” Turban says. “What we wanted to do is understand the mechanisms through which that occurs, and we want to understand the mechanisms because, for people who maybe don’t have the personality dispositions to naturally or intuitively tend toward these behaviors, they can still engage in those behaviors.”

For example, the research found that proactive people receive more mentoring because they tend to be more naturally outgoing. Introverts can achieve more mentoring, too. They just have to be more conscious about seeking out mentors and building other crucial developmental relationships.

“People that are extroverted tend to have more energy and seek out social relations, and people who are introverted may not be as natural in that,” Turban says. “But if you know that establishing social relations is important, you can then engage in behaviors to do that.”

Proactive People Have More Knowledge – But Not Because They’re Smarter

The study also found that people with proactive personalities tended to have more knowledge than their less proactive counterparts, which in turn leads again to greater career success. Once more, this is not the result of any inherent difference in extroverts or other proactive people, but an extension of the behaviors proactive people tend to engage in.

“What I think happens is proactive people tend to seek out opportunities to engage in more behaviors and actions,” Turban says. “The more you do, the more opportunities you have to learn.”

If organizations want to encourage employees – whether introvert, extrovert, or otherwise – to learn, they’d do well to promote climates of psychological safety in which employees feel more comfortable taking risks.

“Learning involves risk. Innovation involves risk. If people are fearful – if there is not a climate of safety – they are less likely to take risks and less likely to learn,” Turban says. “Learning sometimes involves learning what doesn’t work. If people are fearful of making mistakes, it’s going to be … more challenging for them to learn.”

While employers work to institute climates of psychological safety, employees can do a little internal work of their own by trying to become a little less self-conscious.

“Here’s how I describe it to my students: If I’m totally self-conscious, it’s hard to learn. I’m not going to put myself in the situation where I’ll have the opportunity to learn,” Turban says. “If you can create that climate within yourself, you’re going to learn more than a person who is limited either by their climate, their perception of their climate, or by being overly self-conscious.”



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