Some people are surprised when, as CEO of a large company, I confess to being an introvert. Admittedly, it’s an odd combination. I’m required to be out front leading and speaking every week when, honestly, I’d rather be alone.
Being an introvert doesn’t mean I don’t like people or that I’m quiet all the time. Introversion has to do with where I get my energy.
Think of an introvert as an automobile with a tank of fuel. The longer an introvert is in a meeting or public setting, the more fuel is depleted. At some point we introverts run out of fuel and become almost non-functional. We can only refuel by moving to a more private setting. I’m personally fueled by the time I spend alone with my thoughts, in deep study or writing.
Introverts are usually comfortable communicating behind the quiet clicks of a computer with no face-to-face interaction. We relish times of solitude, reflection and personal study.
Surely, other introverts can identify with my dread at being placed at a dinner table where I’m expected to carry the conversation. I don’t like being the center of attention. To the contrary, a lone corner of a room with no one noticing me suits me just fine. Introverts are often perceived as unfriendly. I am not gregarious or outgoing, but I am deeply loyal to friends and family. Still, I have to work on my appearance of unfriendliness.
Compensating for Introversion
Through the years, I have tried to compensate for my strong tendencies toward introversion. Indeed any leader must compensate to lead effectively. Here are seven principles for leading as an introverted leader.
1. Practice LBWA, leadership by walking around. I shouldn’t stay confined to the comforts and seclusion of my office. I must be seen by my staff, as well as by constituents and customers. I need to be around people in order to develop relationships. The same goes for pastors. While an introvert should not plan too much interaction, force yourself to get out among the members of your church frequently, even if only for brief periods of time.
2. Be transparent about your introversion. Being open will allow people to understand you better. If people know you are an introvert, they will be less likely to misinterpret a quiet and reticent nature as a lack of interest or unfriendliness.
3. When possible, I try to keep meetings short. The longer a meeting, the more I get drained.
4. As much as possible, I try to have an extrovert with me when I’m in public or group settings. That extrovert can help carry the conversation. I can nod my head and smile.
5. Be accountable to an extrovert. It’s important to have someone you trust who can speak to you truthfully and remind you when you are sinking into extreme introversion. If I appear to be acting like an uninterested jerk, that friend does not hesitate to tell me. He tells me how my actions or lack of actions may be perceived.
6. Use social media as your voice. Introverts often struggle with being social in person, but typically don’t mind writing. The more people see you on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or a blog, the more they will feel like they know you, even though you don’t have one-on-one interaction with them. Social media is a great tool for introverts.
7. Schedule time to recover. If I don’t recharge my batteries often, I become a useless leader. But I can’t succumb to the temptation to perpetuate my downtime. I must return to all of the principles stated above.
It is possible for introverts to lead. But it takes effort. Don’t allow your personality to be an excuse to keep you from doing what God has called you to do.