In the mythology of western business culture, the idea of an introverted leader is an oxymoron. For most people, the mental images of introversion and leadership just don’t go together. Followers and “worker bees” are quiet and reserved, while leaders are energetic and engaging. Introverts should be encouraged, though, because the research tells a very different story.
Harvard Business Review published research findings showing that more than half of the most successful CEOs are introverts. What’s ironic about this is that this is contrary to what most board members and investors think they should be looking for in a leader. The researchers reported: “Our analysis revealed that while boards often gravitate toward charismatic extroverts, introverts are slightly more likely to surpass the expectations of their boards and investors.”1
This isn’t a new idea. In 2001, Jim Collins published Good to Great and introduced the world to the idea of the “Level 5 Leader.” This is the leader who is simultaneously humble and strong-willed. That’s not strong-willed like the child who wants his own way. That’s the leader who has drive and passion for what he does. The personality of the Level 5 Leader is often introverted but that same leader has focus and vision for great things the organization he leads can achieve.
So, an introverted leader walks into a crowded room…
It sounds like the start of a joke. It’s not. It happens every day. (It happens several times a week for me.) My gut says that many of my readers are also introverts. I want to encourage you by reminding you that most of the great leaders of successful organizations are also introverts. Don’t believe the popular myth of the charismatic leader. You’re not alone. Introverts can be, often are, great leaders.
I also want to present you with a challenge for dealing with “crowded room” situations.
Crowded rooms can be a tremendous challenge for introverts. When I walk into a crowded room, my first thought is often, “Where can I find a friend to talk to in a corner for as long as possible?” It’s a defense mechanism that helps me fend off the drain that the crowd has on my energy and emotions.
But here’s the challenge for you and for me. The next time you, an introverted leader, walk into a crowded room, ask yourself two questions:
- What is God calling me to do right now? How can I best serve Him in this moment?
- What does my organization or this group of people need from me right now? How can I best serve them here and now?
For followers of Jesus Christ, leadership is first about these two things: serving God and serving others. If we see the crowded room not as a drain on our energy and emotions but rather as a ministry to the Lord and to people, introversion will be a catalyst for service and for love and for great leadership.
Dr. Scott Yorkovich is a leadership coach and consultant. He works with individuals, small and medium organizations, and ministries. He is also an experienced competency-based higher education professional. Contact him at ScottYorkovich[at]LeadStrategic.com with your questions.
1: “What Sets Successful CEOs Apart” by Elena Lytkina Botelho, Kim Rosenkoetter Powell, Stephen Kincaid, and Dina Wang. Harvard Business Review (May-June 2017). Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2017/05/what-sets-successful-ceos-apart