Introverts Are Great Leaders Too

One of my first experiences with Alan happened in October of 2018, when I enrolled in the Madison County Leadership Institute. During the class, Alan taped a large piece of paper on the wall and asked everyone to write down words to describe a good leader. The list included the following words:

  • People person
  • Extraverted
  • Charismatic
  • Opinionated
  • Gets stuff done
  • Excited
  • Talkative

I admit I had many of those same words on my own list. Because when most people think of “leader,” they think outgoing, personable, loud, and someone who loves to be the center of attention. Let’s face it, the loudest person in the room is in charge.

Anyone can be a leader.

Have you watched Disney’s Ratatouille? I love this movie. It’s about a rat in Paris who is a phenomenal chef. His inspiration came from a popular chef named Gusteau, whose motto was “Anyone can cook.” A food critic disagreed with Gusteau’s motto. Long story short, Remy, the rat, cooked the food critic an amazing meal of ratatouille, and the critic learned the cook of his meal was, in fact, a rodent. In the critic’s review, he mused about Gusteau’s motto he had previously despised, now interpreting the motto clearly: “Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere.”

I’d like to propose an edit: “Not everyone can become a great leader, but a great leader can come from anywhere.” You don’t have to be an extrovert to be a good leader. In fact, this article cites 40% of leaders are introverts. Consider this list of introverted leaders:

  • Bill Gates
  • Albert Einstein
  • Rosa Parks
  • Steven Spielberg
  • Eleanor Roosevelt
  • Warren Buffet
  • Mahatma Gandhi
  • Michael Jordan
  • Elon Musk
  • Steve Wozniak

Introverts possess important leadership qualities.

The natural personality traits of introverts are the same traits necessary for good leadership. Primarily, the ability to observe and listen. In my opinion (and in Alan’s), the foundational leadership skill is listening. Good leaders listen. They make sure others feel heard and take the thoughts of others into account when making decisions. Introverts do not need to be the center of attention. They are perfectly comfortable letting everyone else speak first while they listen.

Other leadership qualities of introverts include:

  • Introverts work well in solitude. In the book Quiet, Susan Cain emphasizes the need for leaders to work in solitude, citing Steve Wozniak’s solitary work ethic as the driving force behind the success of Apple.
  • Humility. Of course, this isn’t always the case. However, people who are good listeners also tend to value humility.
  • Meaningful connections are a priority. Many introverts dislike small talk because it is too superficial. Instead, they would much rather get to know a person through deep, meaningful conversation and build a loyal relationship.
  • Thoughtful decision making. One phrase many introverts despise is, “Oh, let’s just throw stuff at the wall and see what sticks.” Introverts spend most of their time inside their own heads, thinking about details, outcomes, and possibilities. They don’t make decisions quickly or “on a whim.” Count on introverts to make decisions with a large array of information.
  • Excellent problem solvers. This is another benefit for those who spend much of their time in thought. They will consider a problem from every possible angle and come up with potential pros and cons of each solution.

Leadership isn’t about extraversion.

Good leaders home their skills and rely on professional and personal development. Ultimately, the best leaders are those with high emotional intelligence, who can stretch to meet the needs of those they lead.

If you are a leader seeking to grow leaders, consider the quiet people in your midst. They have strong leadership skills too.

If you are an introvert, don’t discount yourself. Good leaders aren’t always the loudest.

Thanks for reading,

DeAnne Negley, T-LMHC, NCC

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