Updated: Feb 7, 2020
As I work with young people in leadership, I am struck by how when asked to brainstorm all the qualities leaders posses, students are very quick to point out traits like listening skills, organization, reliability, and wisdom. Yet, when these same students are asked to talk about their own leadership, they will point instead to others citing that these "others" appear confident, outgoing, vocal, or hold a title like captain, president, or manager. As a teacher, speech coach, and mentor to young leaders, I have for over a decade encouraged young people who wanted to"find their voice" and "step outside their shell." In such language, I fear the message our culture sends out is that people need to change their personalities or themselves to become better leaders. Instead of rejecting our shell, we must acknowledge that our shell is a part of who were are, accept it, recognize we are safe because of it,and be bold. For I contend that the world benefits when leaders of all kids, introverts and extroverts, step into their own influence. Simply put, "leader" is not a personality type.
Culture of Personality
Author, and viral TED Talk speaker Susan Cain led the charge to challenge this notion. In an interview in The Guardian, she reviews how twentieth century Western society encouraged the Culture of Personality, for"to stand out and succeed in a company, with people that you had never met before, the quality of being very magnetic, very charismatic in a job interview suddenly became very important." While charisma can be helpful at times and can be cultivated and developed, introverted leaders like Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks, and Ghandi model how morally powerful introverted leadership can be. When they have decided to step in front, it is not because they love the spotlight but "because they were driven to do what they thought is right." If you are not one of the twenty million people who viewed her 2012 TED Talk, you can watch it here: Susan Cain: TED 2012, "The Power of Introverts."
The world benefits when leaders of all kids, introverts and extroverts, step into their own influence.
For centuries societies believed that half the population should allow others to have all the power of governing, decision-making, and land ownership. While the twentieth century recognized how limiting this is and began to reform, I want to make sure I don't continue another type of limitation in leadership. In point, Psychology Today states that "researchers estimate extroverts make up 50-74 percent of the population." That figure then suggests up to half half the world's population is introverted. What are we missing out on if those voices don't define themselves as leaders? How has this happened already, collectively as a society? Writer Anais Nin asserts that"our culture made a virtue of living only as extroverts. We discouraged the inner journey, the quest for a center. So we lost our center and have to find it again." Through a balanced leadership representation, we can make strides toward that cultural goal.
Using our Introversion and Extroversion to Lead
No matter if you are an introvert or an extrovert, honor and work with your personality as a basis for your leadership style. Anything else results in impediments, discouragement, or burnout. Susan Cain writes in her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a world that Can't Stop Talking, "The secret to life is to put yourself in the right lighting. For some, it's a Broadway spotlight; for others, a lamplit desk. Use your natural powers--of persistence, concentration, and insight--to do work you love and work that matters." In my own life and in the lives of my students, I would encourage all to find their light. I love how speaker and activist Sarah Corbett used her introverted personality and personal interests to find ways to lead through what she calls"craftivism." She explains her process here Sarah Corbett: TED 2016, "Activism Needs Introverts." Heart wins hearts and creates powerful influence.
Myers-Briggs Personality Test
If you haven't taken the Myers-Briggs Personality Test before to determine if you are an introvert or extrovert, among other personality types, I would highly recommend it. It will help you assess your own strengths (and struggles) that your personality will bring to leadership and to groups you work with.