What do you picture when you think of a great leader? You might imagine someone who is dynamic in a crowd, who loves talking with people, who is outgoing and charismatic and thrives in social situations where all eyes are on them. Certainly, someone who exhibits these skills and traits has the potential for great leadership. But then again, a great leader can also be the person who connects with people as individuals, who can listen and adapt goals and plans, and who is not necessarily the loudest voice in a crowded room. When the initial idea of a leader is an extrovert, where do our introverted leaders fit in? Today, I’m talking about the roles of introversion and extroversion in the realm of leadership and how we can create inclusive opportunities for both leadership styles.
It’s no secret that there’s a large value placed on extroversion by Western society. According to Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, there’s a cultural bias towards extroversion in leadership that can be traced back to the 20th century when it became the expectation that a magnetic personality was necessary for success in business. Even today, we’re presented with this ideal through the numerous, charismatic influencers (and their millions of followers) that we come in contact with on a daily basis through social media.
These examples perpetuate the generalization that all extroverts are loud and enjoy crowds of people, while introverts are quiet and prefer time to themselves. However, things are not so black and white. While this generalization has a hint of truth behind it, introversion and extroversion are two points on a spectrum. While some leaders may lean towards one or the other, everyone floats between the two throughout their lives. Instead of solely focusing on communication style, introversion and extroversion are words that can be used to describe how an individual gains energy and where they focus their attention. If extroverted leaders are the ones organizing groups and creating change, introverted leaders are the ones planning, evaluating and listening to their followers. There is room for both, and as leaders and leadership educators, we need to create an inclusive space that places equal value on all types of leaders.
Introverted leaders have many strengths. They are powerful observers and listeners and often calm in the face of chaos. They show passion through persistence and amongst the quiet workings of their inner self, often generate original and creative ideas and solutions. Encourage the leaders in your life to celebrate these strengths along with the idealized strengths of extroverts.
Budding, introverted leaders will appreciate allotted intentional time to process and respond to ideas and discussions. When given a prompt, allow a minute or two for the group to think before sharing to encourage equal amounts of “air time.” As discussion starts, take note of the voices being heard and be sure to create space for leaders less willing to compete to be heard. This may look like incorporating more small group discussions in our learning or collaborative spaces or prioritizing voices that haven’t yet spoken during group discussions.
Currently, the leadership world is built for extroverted leaders, and yet, introverted leaders still continue to thrive. This, in part, is thanks to educators and mentors who help young leaders recognize their potential regardless of leadership style. It reinforces why organizations like HOBY are so vital to creating inclusive leaders of tomorrow. At HOBY, students not only learn about their own personal leadership styles but also how to apply it in a larger, collaborative setting. The emphasis on personal leadership celebrates a diverse range of skills and styles and produces leaders confident in who they are and what they can do. It provides power and understanding when working with a large group of people. When all leaders create a conscious awareness of leadership styles that are different from their own, we can create leadership opportunities and communities that promote inclusion, understanding, and growth.
Steps to Self-Care for the Introverted Leader
Would you consider yourself an introverted leader? Yes? Me too. Let’s talk about self-care. As mentioned in a previous post on introverted leadership, much of what we associate with leadership is nearly synonymous with extroversion. So, in a world full of events, outgoing and charismatic peers, and a demand for teamwork and social interaction, how can an introvert recharge and lead successfully? Here a few tips I’ve learned along the way in my journey of introverted leadership.
- Don’t get hung up on the label.
Introversion (and extroversion) are highly generalized labels used to categorize people and represent a spectrum of ways that individuals gain energy and interact with others. There is no one who knows better than what it means for you to be an introverted leader than you. For example, I know that I’m introvert who’s highly confident to speak in front of a large group of strangers… but then I need to take the night off and get some “me” time to recharge. Don’t let others define you. Go out there and showcase your strengths in leadership.
- Take a break.
If you know when you’re going to be stepping out of your “introvert bubble,” plan ahead with a way to unwind or process once it’s all done. Recognize your signs of burnout and know when to take a step back. Physical activity and meditation or mindfulness are activities that can relieve stress – both with others or alone!
- Ask for help.
All leaders – both extroverts and introverts – have strengths and weaknesses. When you need help or another perspective, ASK! More often than not, a good peer, coworker, or mentor will be willing to lend a helping hand. Remember, leadership is a balancing act, and the most successful leaders are inclusive of others and capitalize on diversity in strengths and perspectives.
- Advocate and educate.
As a young, introverted leader, I often held the mistaken assumption that the louder voices in the room knew what I wanted or thought. In reality, no one can read minds. When working with others, advocate for yourself and your needs. Not every teacher, peer, or colleague you work with is an expert in introverted leadership. In fact, probably few of them are. It’s okay to pull someone aside and ask for more time to process, or to continue a conversation later, one-on-one, after a group discussion. Educate others on what it feels like to be the introvert in an environment that seems full of extroversion and continually advocate for others who may be following in your footsteps.
- Find Your People
This might seem counterintuitive but we all know people who drain our “battery” and people who build us up. Find the people who you can connect with that don’t require you to use some of the social energy and really take the time to connect. When leading and supporting others, it’s important to know who’s got your back and can support you. Find the people who are easy to be around and when things get hard and let them lift you up.
What I’m really trying to say is – when you’re in the midst of devoting your time and energy to being a good leader for others – make sure that you are reserving time for yourself. Your idea of self-care might be different than the ideas above, and that’s okay. You know who you are and what replenishes your energy. Spend some time doing things that help you recharge and make you happy, and know that when you schedule in a break or some time off – you’re a better leader because of it.
Amy Hudock is a current HOBY volunteer and 2011 PA East alumna. After graduating from Dickinson College, she jokingly told friends and family that she was never leaving college and began pursuing a career in Higher Education and Student Affairs. Currently, she’s completing a Master’s degree in Counseling and College Student Personnel and preparing for a new role as Residence Director at Shippensburg University. Amy enjoys CrossFit, color-coded planners, and cuddly puppies. She is a proud (and passionate) introverted leader.