introverted leaderI’ll never forget the moment I realized there are other people like me out there. People who don’t mind speaking in front of a crowd, but dread the small talk afterward. People who find themselves speechless in a confrontation because they aren’t sure what they’re thinking unless they write it out. People who spent the nights of their youth reading quietly, or hanging out with one friend, when everyone else seemed keen on partying or hanging out in groups.

I’ll never forget when I learned that I’m an introvert, and I’m not the only one out there. In fact, one-third to one-half of Americans are. (I’m Canadian, but I’m sure the numbers are similar!)

For those who aren’t familiar with the terms introversion and extroversion, here is a primer:

“…introverts prefer less stimulating environments and tend to enjoy quiet concentration, listen more than they talk and think before they speak. Conversely, extroverts are energized by social situations and tend to be assertive multi-taskers who think out loud and on their feet.”

Does one of these terms sound more like you? We are, of course, complex beings. If we look closely at our personality traits, we usually find that we tend to lean more one way than the other. It’s not so different from the generational shaping we experience.

With such a high number of Americans fitting under the introvert umbrella, it’s no surprise that there have been many introverted leaders guiding us throughout history. To name a few:

  • Rosa Parks
  • Albert Einstein
  • Eleanor Roosevelt
  • Hillary Clinton
  • Charles Darwin
  • Mark Zuckerberg

If we look a little closer, we could probably list off some of the most obvious attributes that these introverted leaders share. They are/were:  courageous, daring, flexible, insightful, steady. Important characteristics of any good leader.

So often we admire these leaders and wish to emulate them, but there is a mystery surrounding how we get there. How do we make that leap from where we are to where we want to be?

I propose that by better understanding your strengths and weaknesses — in this case, specifically for introverts — you can be well on your way to becoming a top-notch leader.

Introverted Leader: Building Muscle

Today I’m sharing some tips on how introverts can strengthen their leadership muscles.

1 – Join a public speaking group.

When someone first suggested that I join a public speaking group, I wondered how it could benefit me because I’m not afraid of speaking in front of a crowd beyond your typical jitters. What I quickly realized, however, is that these groups help to cultivate “in the moment” thinking. Those of us who are naturally writing inclined can really learn to build that thinking-on-your-feet muscle, which makes interactions so painful sometimes. If you struggle with this, consider joining a public speaking group. Toastmasters is a great one.

2 – Lean on your friends/family/loved ones.

If I didn’t have a support system to push me out of my comfort zone, my leadership skills would have been stunted before they began. It’s important to have a safe group (even one person), to help push you a little further than you would take yourself. It’s the only way to grow.

3 – Balance the chaos.

We rely heavily on peace and down time. We need it. So we have to ensure we get it. There is nothing that sets an introvert completely off balance than not having a chance to catch our breath. So no matter what, be sure to get that down time in. We need it to reflect and absorb lessons, which in turn makes us much better leaders.

4 – Volunteer.

I know we’re all maxed out for time, but volunteering with a local organization – in person – is one of the most effective methods of building leadership skills I’ve found. Nonprofits need able bodies, and you’ll be thrust into plenty of situations you’d never have found yourself in otherwise. Volunteer at a food bank, a charity clothing store, a soup kitchen. You may even end up on the Board of Directors, continuing to learn lesson after lesson that will be handy for your leadership toolbox. Volunteering for introverts may not always feel natural because:

  1. It’s out of your comfort zone, and
  2. You’d rather be home.

The truth is, you may even regret it before the moment you walk through the door, but soon you’ll be glad you did it.

Are you an introvert? Do you have any tips to add?