Introvert Superstar: How Introverts Can Become Great Leaders

We think of leaders as charismatic and popular; they make rounds to everyone during team socials and bring a commanding presence at large meetings or presentations. These are qualities of many great leaders, but not necessarily what makes them great. Truly effective leadership exemplifies genuine humility, empathy, and a listening ear, all of which often come naturally for introverted leaders.

It took me several years to understand this and to become completely comfortable in a leadership position without the pressure to be the most social, the most popular, or the most eloquent “in the room.” This realization allowed me to channel that otherwise wasted energy towards leading from the front line, sharing a vision, empowering people, and devoting myself to bringing out the best in them.

As I have recently learned, this style of leadership is often referred to as “Servant Leadership”. It has been defined by Edward D. Hess, in an article called “Servant leadership: A Path to High Performance” and his research revealed that this style is prevalent in most of the highest performing organizations studied.

For those who happen to be introverts with big aspirations, I’ve learned a few lessons that I believe are worth sharing.

Reach Out to People

Chitchatting most likely isn’t something you appreciate naturally. However, that shouldn’t prevent you from connecting with people. If the setting is right, reaching out and building relationships with team members can come easily to introverts. Through one-on-one or small group conversations, introverts can listen to the many different perspectives that are present, making sure to praise great ideas and empathizing with challenges being faced. By taking the time to hear thoughts or critiques from individuals, rather than from the loudest voices in the room, introverted leaders are able to implement change that works best for a team.

In addition to considering diverse ideas and perspectives, reaching out to people creates an environment where both leaders and workers feel free and safe enough to speak up, as one study found. The hardest part may be initiating these smaller group settings, but once it becomes a norm, introverted leaders not only access great ideas, but also create an environment that feels less threatening and exposed.

Introvert Hack #1: Want to connect with someone, but don’t know how to break the ice? Skip the small talk and make it meaningful. Start by asking something you truly care to know.

Lead by Example

Listening is important, but leaders should carry that out even further; once you recognize an idea that needs to be shared, empower the employee with opportunities to share and receive credit for her idea. This is harder said than done for some people because highlighting the strengths of others requires great humility and thoughtfulness. But doing so allows introverted leaders to lead by example, demonstrating their wisdom and proving their trustworthiness. Such behavior cultivates the respect and loyalty of their team members.

“Servant leaders” also tend to lead by example. Hess explains:

“They were people-centric, valued service to others and believed they had a duty of stewardship. Nearly all were humble and passionate operators who were deeply involved in the details of the business. Most had long tenures in their organizations. They had not forgotten what it was like to be a line employee.”

These are values that are traditionally undermined. Leaders are expected to be goal-oriented and selfish, but servant leaders are able to lead the way by example.

Introvert Hack #2: Challenge yourself to perform front-line tasks regularly. Not only will this keep you sharp, but it will also help you see from other people’s perspectives.

Summary

The strategies above can be helpful for all leaders, but perhaps may be most useful for introverts. I hope these examples help to encourage them to be the leaders they wish to be by honoring their true nature and giving less importance to fitting a specific stereotypes. After all, research seems to be proving that the “Servant [Introvert] Leader” should be the most sought after stereotype anyway!