by Mary Meadows
Hi, my name is Mary, and I am an introvert. I am also a leader.
If you had asked me what leadership meant 5 years ago, I might have glanced up from a book and said that leaders are people “in charge” who tell others what to do. At this point, if our conversation wasn’t already over, I would have reopened my book and returned to the fictional world between its pages.
What is Leadership?
My definition of leadership has since gone through a radical change. It began when I took some extra credit leadership courses in college. Here I was introduced to the concept that everyone has the potential for leadership. I didn’t fully come to embrace this concept until I began interning here at Artios Magazine. You see, instead of simply having the potential for leadership—Christ has recreated all of us to be leaders. He partners with us to bring about healing and reconciliation. This awesome call is available to everyone who has accepted Christ as their Savior. As we discussed last week, leadership doesn’t require certain personality types, or characteristics. Christ will work through your unique talents and circumstances to influence the world.
The Quiet Leader
My identity in Christ as a leader and my introverted personality means that I occupy a zone that might seem like an oxymoron—an introverted leader.
Studies show that one-third to half of the U.S. Population is introverted.¹ However, an astounding 96 percent of leaders and managers report being extroverted!² These statistics have some troubling implications: that 1) introverts are grossly under represented in leadership, and 2) at least some leaders feel pressure to self-identify as extroverts.
Thanks in part to Susan Cain and the Quiet Revolution, the cultural ideal of an extroverted leader is slowly being eroded. Introverts are learning that it’s okay to lead quietly. Extroverts and ambiverts are learning how to better relate to their quiet cousins. Even if you aren’t an introvert, you probably know someone who is. Understanding how personality shapes our inner and outer lives will help us intentionally embrace our call to leadership.
Here are six practical tips for the introverted leader (don’t worry, extroverts, we’ll talk about you next week):
1. Take a Personality Test
If you suspect you’re an introvert—you probably are. But, taking a personality test may help you gain new insight into your own psychology. You only need fifteen minutes (and an internet connection) to find out exactly where on the introvert/extrovert scale you fall.³
I recommend the test from 16 Personalities. This test is 100 questions and breaks down as a simplified version of the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator. Your results come with a detailed analysis of your personality type’s strengths and weaknesses, friendships, career paths, and workplace habits. Artios Christian College also offers a free guide to Discovering Your Leadership Strengths. While there is no test that can fully capture your personality, this is a great way to prompt some meaningful self-reflection as you pursue your leadership calling.
2. Recognize the Spectrum of Personality
Personality can be described as a spectrum or as a kind of scale. You may tip more towards the extroverted side, the introverted side, or balance out somewhere in the middle. The uniqueness of our individual traits and experiences means that no two introverts (or extroverts or ambiverts) are exactly alike.
Learning to recognize where definitions end and the individual begins will help the introverted leader appreciate the uniqueness of their teammates, friends, and family members. Take time to reflect on how your particular brand of introversion translates into the world. How much time do you need to recharge? How many social events a week do you feel comfortable attending? Does this impact your call to leadership?
3. Communicate Your Introverted-ness
Because of their dislike for small talk, there’s a misconception that introverts are rude and standoffish. This is very rarely the case. Most often, introverts simply prefer listening and observing to talking. They would rather skip the obligatory small talk and begin forging an open, honest connection with the other individual.
As an introvert, it’s important that you openly communicate about your quiet habits, especially around extroverted co-workers. A few of my co-workers used to assume that my quietness meant I was upset or anxious. Most often, however, I was merely planning out the team’s to-do list or contemplating a future project. Taking a moment to explain that your silence isn’t negative will help put your extroverted co-workers at ease. Open communication about your different personalities will help your team achieve its common purpose.
4. Build a Leadership Team
Leadership doesn’t have to be a solo quest. In fact, we see examples of team leadership in the New Testament (see Acts 14:23). In a recent Leadership Conversation, Israel Steinmetz (co-dean of Artios Christian College) said: “It is team leadership that we see modeled for us in the New Testament…what we’re taught about leadership only works in team leadership.”
Introverts are at their best when embracing this kind of leadership. This is because introverts are more inclined to actively listen to their teammates. They are also more likely to ask for and implement suggestions. Susan Cain writes that “introverted leaders create a virtuous circle of proactivity,” and are especially adept at motivating passive followers.4 When building a team, be sure to look for members whose personalities compliment your own. They will have strengths to balance your weaknesses.
5. Make Time to Recharge
Part of what defines an introvert is their need to re-energize in a quiet place. It’s not that introverts are fatigued by simply talking to other people. The main difference between introverts and extroverts is their sensitivity to stimulation.5 As you may have guessed, extroverts tend to crave more external stimulation than introverts.
As an introvert you’re more likely to be drained by intense or prolonged social situations. Without time to recharge introverts often feel stressed and anxious. This personal time is especially important for introverts who find themselves in an environment populated by extroverts. As a leader, it is vital that you intentionally set aside this time to recharge. Whether it’s taking your lunch break alone or requesting that the team work in silence for twenty minutes—your team will benefit from having you at your best.
6. Learn When to Be Loud
While introverts are (and should be) proud of their quiet natures, there are times where it may be beneficial to act more extroverted than you really are. There are times to be loud. Especially in our extroverted-inclined culture.
Susan Cain devotes an entire chapter of her book, Quiet, to answering the question: “when should you act more introverted than you really are?” The answer? An introvert’s pseudo-extroversion should be fueled by their deeper values and passions. These underlying principles are what give an introvert the motivation to teach a class or speak about a subject they love. It’s worthwhile to act out of character for the sake of some tasks, even if those tasks require a different personality type.6 The key to deciding when to be a pseudo-extrovert is to discover what your personal passions are.7 From there you can pursue the projects and activities that align with your passions.
In 1 Kings 19, God tells Elijah to go stand on the mountain before Him. What do you imagine Elijah expects too see and hear as he huddles in a cave and waits for the Lord of Hosts? First, came a great wind that tore the very rocks of the mountain into pieces—but the Lord was not in the wind. Then, came an earthquake that shook the ground beneath Elijah’s feet—but the Lord was not in the earthquake. Next came a raging fire—but the Lord was not in the fire. Finally, after the fire, there came a delicate, whispering voice. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went to stand before his Creator God.
Like Elijah, we often expect leaders to exude power and strength. We look for the individuals with voices that resonate through a crowded auditorium. We expect to see an out-going people-person with an affinity for the spotlight. And there are times when this is what a leader looks like.
But there are others who lead in smaller, quieter ways. They lead with a kind word and a listening ear. They encourage ideas from their teammates and cultivate a culture of proactivity.
Sometimes, the most influential voice is also the quietest.
¹ Jenna Goudreau, “So Begins A Quiet Revolution Of The 50 Percent.” Forbes, Jan 30, 2012, https://www.forbes.com/sites/jennagoudreau/2012/01/30/quiet-revolution-of-the-50-percent-introverts-susan-cain/#d96db5693fb5
² Adam Grant, “5 Myths About Introverts and Extroverts,” The Quiet Revolution, n.d., https://www.quietrev.com/5-myths-about-introverts-and-extroverts/
³ I recently found out I’m only 87% introverted, which is a lower percentage than I would’ve guessed.
4 Susan Cain, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking (New York, NY: Broadway Books. 2012), 57.
6 Cain, 217.
7 Cain, 218.