The Introverted Leader

I am an introvert. I speak in group settings hundreds of times a year.

Admittedly, it’s a weird combination. I am required to be out front leading and speaking to pastors and church leaders every week.

But I’m an introvert. I am happiest when I’m by myself or with a few close friends or family members.

How does an introverted leader lead? Can an introverted leader lead?

The Life of an Introverted Leader

I come by my introversion honestly. My dad was an introvert, yet he managed to lead a small bank as president and CEO and to be mayor of the small town in Alabama where I spent all my pre-college years.

Because everyone in the town knew and loved dad, he could get away with his idiosyncrasies of introversion. If he were being drained in a conversation of small talk, he would simply walk away without explanation to the group. I remember vividly one time when my parents were entertaining another couple at our home. I watched my dad carefully as I saw his energy draining rapidly. He abruptly stood up and announced to the couple and my mom that he was going to bed. He left the three of them somewhat stunned and embarrassed.

Dad could get away with such behavior. I can’t. Indeed, most introverted leaders can’t.

What Drains Introverts

Small talk drains introverts. We weird people often wonder why people ask us how we’re doing. We can’t stand to be captured by a stranger or casual acquaintance that wants to tell us how we can make the world a better place to live. We dread being placed at a dinner table where we are expected to carry the conversation. We do not like being the center of attention. To the contrary, a lone corner of a room with no one noticing us suits us just fine.

I have often been perceived to be unfriendly because of my introversion. It’s a fair accusation. I do not have a gregarious outwardly friendly personality. But I am deeply loyal to friends and family. Still, I do need to work on my appearance of unfriendliness.

Compensating for Introversion

Through the years, I have tried to compensate for my strong tendencies toward introversion. Indeed any leader must compensate to lead effectively. Here are my own seven principles for leading as an introverted leader.

1. Compensating for introversion is not an option. Leaders can’t lead without dealing with people in a multitude of settings. If I am not willing to compensate, I should not be a leader.

2. I must practice LBWA, leadership by walking around. I can’t stay confined to the comforts and seclusion of my office. I must be seen by clients and employees. I must travel to places to develop relationships.

3. It often behooves me to explain to others that I am introverted so my quietness and reticent nature are not misinterpreted to be a lack of interest or unfriendliness. On more than one occasion, that explanation has helped people immensely in understanding what I say or don’t say, or to understand better my body language.

4. When possible, I need to keep meetings short. The longer a meeting, the more I get drained. Many people with whom I have worked have learned that lesson. I also notice that extroverts tend to organize long and tedious meetings. They enjoy them. I don’t. I really don’t.

5. As much as possible, I try to have an extrovert with me when I’m in public or group settings. That extrovert can carry the conversation. I can nod my head and smile.

6. I need to practice self-awareness constantly. In that regard, I need and have someone I trust to speak to me truthfully. If I appear to be acting like an uninterested jerk, that friend does not hesitate to tell me. It’s painful, but I need to know how others perceive me.

7. I must schedule downtime. If I don’t recharge my batteries often, I become a useless leader. But I can’t succumb to the temptation to perpetuate my downtime. I must return to all of the principles stated above.

The Introverted Leader Can Lead

It is possible for us introverts to lead. But it takes effort. Sometimes it takes a lot of effort.

Feel free to give me your take on this matter. I would love to hear from all of you, especially fellow introverts.

But then again, most of you introverts may not desire to join the conversation.

I understand completely.

Posted on May 12, 2011

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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  • After reading this blog post I’m beginning to wonder if we’re twins separated at birth?

  • Melissa Marlowe says on

    I am an introvert, but have been in positions at Ridgecrest where I had to be with people, leading them and teaching them. I have always liked my down time, and don’t do well with out it. But, when God was healing my heart, and teaching me it was His strength and how He had equipped me to serve Him at Ridgecrest, there was an amazing transformation when I finally grapsed that He was the One doing the work. It brought a tremendous amount of joy that the God of the universe would work through me to touch others and that He trusted me with that privelege. I try not to lose sight of the fact that it is Him working if I will just obey and walk with Him. Learning to step out of my comfort zone was an amazing expereince of His power at work. Oh what Joy that floods my soul when I see Him! Amazing, Loving Father!

  • Evelyn Noweder says on

    Curt: Wow, it’s so interesting to hear from a sibling of an introvert. You are so right, one of the biggest mistakes we make is not recognizing and making peace with our God-given personalities. I will say though that it is sometimes difficult to do so because we see all the extroverts out there having fun and being accepted and seemingly relaxed and happy with who they are. We feel that there is something “wrong” with us because we aren’t out there with “everyone else.” Growing up in a family of two extroverts and being the “middle child,” I struggled for so long to try to figure out what was wrong with me. So I didn’t even consider the idea that I was just “different” and not “wrong,” funny, it never occurred to me.
    And as for the second part, if you feel there is something wrong with you, you are apt to go about sharing it with everyone. It wasn’t until I read a portion of a book that gave me a different perspective on my personality and it’s positives that I realized I am SO THANKFUL to be an introvert. Yes, it means I have difficulties in making friends and miss out on a lot of socializing (although I don’t really like socializing so much anyway, kind of like pulling teeth), but I love the passion and joy I get out of reading, studying, writing, and just thinking. Couldn’t do those things if I was a social butterfly.
    Yes, it is such a pity that we don’t have someone to explain the differences and the blessings of each personality type right at the beginning so that we could by-pass so much of the hurt and the trying to be someone other than the one God made us to be, the trying to live like everyone else rather than as ourselves.
    As I said, it is so interesting to see a sibling who recognizes the differences and the blessings in his brothers life. Thank you for sharing.

  • Thank you for sharing. As an adult with an 75 year old, Harvard Ph.D, introverted brother, it seems to me that the two worst mistakes an introvert can make are: 1) not recognize and make peace with their unique, God-given personality, and 2) not openly share about their unique, God-given personality with those around them. Folks need to know and, for the most part, want to be supportive. Life works better when we’re open.

  • This is so encouraging! God has placed me in a leadership position and i have been arguing with Him all day about not being able to lead because i am an introvert! I guess i needed to hear this today! I will apply these principles to my leadership postions! 🙂

  • I was in a situation of leadership where I admitted freely that I am an introvert. It did not seem to make a difference to the people. Do I need to work on appearing friendlier? Yes. But what suggestions do you have for when others don’t seem to care whether you are an introvert or not, they demand that you behave as an extrovert always?

  • LOL..
    “Feel free to give me your take on this matter. I would love to hear from all of you, especially fellow introverts.
    But then again, most of you introverts may not desire to join the conversation.
    I understand completely.”
    That’s so funny! Yes I am also an introvert so I’m laughing with you, Ken

  • Dr. Rainer,
    Thanks for a great article!! This describes me in so many ways.

    • Quick observation- I’m reading responses from some who are admitting to being introverts and then sharing how they find themselves to be superior leaders because if it. I think it’s important to be careful here and see the value of all personality types.

  • Thanks for sharing your insights Dr. Rainer. You analysis of the introverted leader was like looking in a mirror. I also appreciate your principles and must admit I fall quite short on some of them … I’ll do better I promise. I truly enjoy reading your blog. Brings back memories of listening to you in class. God bless.

  • Wonderful and insightful post. Thanks.

  • Daniel Smith says on

    Thanks for the insights and encouragement – one introvert to another.

  • Great discussion that stuns me that so few of us know about extraverts and Introverts. There are at least two ways to think of E and I. One is from a social interaction perspective. the other has to do with emotional energy. Some people consider themselves to be Introverts but they are really shy and do not like to be with a lot of people. However, they do not get emotionally drained when with others.
    From the perspective of the Myers Briggs Personality Types, an Extravert gets energy from others and an Introvert loses energy with others, even family and close friends. When a Introverts are tired they like to be alone to “recharge” their battery. When an Extravert is emotionally tired he/she can re-energize by being with others.
    IMO every church staff needs to do the MBTI and then teach it to every member. It would stop a lot of false guilt and self condemnation and assist people in finding the best ministry and best job and stop a lot of family and church conflict. The top reasons for toxic conflict in churches is…..? “An inability to deal with differences.” The top reason for divorce is…”An inability to deal effectively with differences.” Why are churches not teaching this ti everyone?

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