The Introvert Leader’s Survival Guide
Extroverts dominate leadership literature, but what about the introverts?
Nobody ever believes me when I tell them I’m an introvert. I tell people that I’m actually a naturally quiet guy and they all laugh — probably because they hear my super-passionate messages and humor every Sunday.
I’ve spent years burying the introverted me … but it’s still there. According to the Meyers-Briggs, I’m actually a very strong introvert (INTJ). And if you don’t know what you are, here’s a link to a free Jung personality test.
Part of the reason people are surprised is because they don’t really understand the definition of an introvert.
Some automatically think it means you’re shy or never talk (and yes, those people do have a higher likelihood of being introverts). But it’s actually a measurement of where you get your energy and clarity.
For extroverts, social interaction brings energy and clarity; whereas for introverts, energy comes from solitude or through a small numbers of intimate friends. And a large part of it has a genetic basis (about 40%). Research can actually determine introversion in newborn babies (as they are more sensitive to external stimuli, like lights/sounds/etc.). Indeed, research has even shown that introverts subconsciously tend to listen to music at slightly lesser decibel levels! It’s not so much that it’s painful; rather their physiological reaction to things is stronger; therefore, to focus they need space.
To complicate things, America is one of the most “extrovert dominated” nations in the world — where business models have been obsessed with rewarding and elevating extroverted values. Global research has even proven that Americans (unlike the rest of the world) actually perceive fast talkers and gregarious people as more intelligent — even better looking!
Not surprisingly, Americans are also irrational advocates of “extrovert-biased” leadership techniques (like group brainstorming, and open office floor-plans and meeting formats) even though research is now finding all of these practices to have a devastating effect on both the morale and creativity of an organization. Yet, even still, people keep cranking out business books advocating these things.
Don’t get me wrong, there are, in fact, a lot of advantages to extroversion. Extroverts are statistically better at ignoring unjust criticism. They’re better at injecting confidence into a group of people.
Of course, there’s a flip side to this “gift.” They’re also less likely to learn from their mistakes … less likely to listen to “justified” criticism … and they’re more likely to have extra-marital affairs. (Ouch!)
And, for years, I started to believe all of the bias. I’ve seen my introversion as a liability … a thing that hinders my influence. And, especially as a senior pastor, I’ve always felt like a fish out of water.
After all, I’ve never had the natural ability to schmooze in the church foyer, or glad-hand in public forums. Don’t get me wrong: I still do it. In fact, in the beginning of our church, we hosted dinners for over 80 people/week. We replaced all of the carpets in our humble home because we couldn’t afford to keep professionally cleaning them. We essentially lived communally for several years.
And finally, when I decided that I’d rather quit and die than continue to pretend to be an extrovert, I asked God why he had made me this way. Thankfully, he opened me up to a massive amount of flattering research about introverts.