Can Introverts Be Good Leaders?

Posted by: Nigel Girling Post Date: 14th April 2016

I’d like to show you why the answer to the question, “Can introverts be good leaders?”, is a resounding yes!

One of the most common misconceptions in the world of leadership concerns introversion and extroversion with regards to leading others. There is often an assumption, perhaps rooted in the belief that a leader needs to be dynamic and driven, that an introvert cannot be truly effective at inspiring, motivating and enthusing colleagues in pursuit of a vision.


Examples of introverted leaders

I can think of a few names that might quickly disprove such a fallacy: Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa and Nelson Mandela, for a start. None of these people fit the accepted view of an extrovert, being humble and unassuming. But at the same time, all were totally committed in every sinew to the cause they came to symbolise, and the actions of each inspired others. All completely transformed the attitudes of whole swathes of society, and even moved a nation or two.

On a more typical business front, few leaders can have had the enormous impact on a sector that Sir Terry Leahy had at Tesco, or that Bill Gates had at Microsoft. Again, both are quite reserved and down-to-earth characters who use their attitude, values, personal enthusiasm and insight to mobilise organisations in pursuit of a clear vision of the way ahead.

They don’t thump tables or yell at people, but recognise that talented and engaged people will take them in the right direction, and so they invest their time and effort into ensuring that people are at the heart of their strategies.

Why it’s ok to be an introverted leader

You really don’t have to be an extrovert or a charismatic superhero to be effective as a leader. Sure, those attributes can make it easier to engage an audience at a conference, and they may be superficially ‘impressive’, but they also bring their own challenges. They often disengage as many people as they engage, attracting labels such as ‘superficial’, ‘egotistical’ or ‘loud’.

For introvert colleagues, an extrovert leader can be quite difficult to deal with, and such a leader may find it difficult to engage with less flamboyant colleagues to build effective working relationships.

Adapting your leadership style to context

On our leadership and management programmes, we emphasise the need for leaders to develop and hone their ability to adapt their approach to suit their audience and context.

The key is to do what is needed, not just follow your personal preference. If you are an introvert leader, that may mean occasionally overcoming your natural desire to keep out of the limelight to actually deliver a presentation to colleagues, or to deliver information to extrovert colleagues in a way that works for them, through a general discussion or brainstorming session.
One big advantage you have as an introvert is that you will often find it easier to ‘turn the volume up’ than an extrovert finds it to ‘turn the volume down’. You just need to work out how to do things in a way that suits both you and your context.

I have recently been mentoring an introvert senior leader who needs to make engaging and exciting presentations to his organisation, but hates public speaking. We’ve been working on the design of a presentation that uses video clips from other speakers and great images that convey a passionate message, leaving him to just narrate in a way that connects the various pieces.

The overall effect is of a brilliant presentation, but the secret is in the design. Reflect on how you might use such ideas to do the ‘extroverting’ for you, and how your natural style can be used most effectively to engage colleagues. Thankfully, introverts are typically much better at reflecting, so you have an advantage!

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