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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  • As a professor and one who has conducted studies using the Meyers-Briggs, this article presents introversion so clearly and in a practical way. Understanding our gifts – one of which is introversion for me – allows us to better serve the Lord in our work and home. For me, the knowledge about various personality approaches that the Lord created has allowed me to grow in patience and kindness. I enjoyed reading the comments from those fearfully and wondrously made with introversion! (As a side note, it would be wonderful to see this conversation continue without getting hijacked by those who do not seem to have anything to contribute to the topic at hand.)

  • Preston Parrish says on

    Great insight. Would love to hear further discussion of the extent and ways that egotism finds place and expression among either/both extroverts and introverts…

  • I am an introvert. I enjoy planning and managing. But would do it from behind me desk. I have hard time networking and finding a job is really difficult for someone like me who hates marketing oneself. I do like conversations that lead to a conclusion. It’s a lot of work to be an introverted business person.

  • I wholeheartedly agree with you on this topic of introverted leadership. I am a manager of a financial institution, and a pastor of a small and growing church. My colleagues at the financial institution seem to be extroverted, and I realize this because they don’t understand my introversion. Therefore, I am certain of their extroversion. In meetings, I am bombarded with pressure to make snap decisions without the time to think them through. My congregants always want to spend time together at a head count of 200+ or better.
    My introvesion is a sanction for me. I love to spend time watching t.v., reading, and thinking alone. I pick and choose when I want to engage crowds of large capacities at mixers and other social events. My introversion helps my patience and faith. This is mainly because I have learned how to take the time to ponder ideas before expressing them. I believe that crowds are draining because too much response is solicited. I feel as though people tend to share from irrelevant places. For example gossip and fallacies begin to be developed from dead space in conversations. In my opinion, some people don’t appreciate the quiet of the mind that can produce genius.

  • These efforts require alot of patience too. Sometimes its just so frustrating that i still have to bare with conversations and not getting away. Friends and family around me is not aware of my current situation at all. They just wanted me to go out more, more, MORE. Argh

  • I’ve had this in my to-read pile for some time and am just now back to read the article fully.
    You were describing yourself…and me too to a good degree. The article is very good medicine, and I appreciate it. It would be great to see it in some sort of expanded form (book) someday.
    Ryan Boomershine, Headmaster
    Jonathan Edwards Classical Academy
    Nashville, TN

  • Jason Frealy says on

    I’m a different type of introvert, but many of your insights and tips were still helpful.

    I understand why Jesus prioritized some alone time after ministering to the crowds… it’s draining!

    My God use our personalities, and all our quirks, to grow us and to glorify his Son!

  • Parminder Summon says on

    Dear Dr. Rainer
    I don’t know you. In fact, this is the first time I have visited this website. So, my comments may have no validity at all. On the other hand, if the cap fits….
    I don’t think you are an introverted leader. At times, like most people, you like to be by yourself and with your loved ones. That is not a defining characteristic of introverted people. Neither is:
    – the fact that your dad was introverted
    – that small talk drains you
    – that you can be wrongly perceived of as being unfriendly
    – that you are deeply loyal to your family and friends
    – that you have to explain your introversion to others (in fact this is a sign of extroversion)
    – that you need to keep meetings short (that is a sign that you are business like). In fact, I would reckon there are some meetings, with your friends and family for example that you love to carry on without a thought to time
    – that you need to be more self aware and schedule down time. Everyone needs to do that.
    – that it takes effort to lead. This is the case for us all.
    Actually, none of the points you make to illustrate your introversion hold up! Without knowing anything about you, I would say that you are thoughtful, reflective, considerate and internal – all traits of an introvert. However, you can also be passionate, quick to act, directive and external – all traits of an extrovert.
    I am sorry to relate that I think this article is actually about false modesty. Between the lines, what you would really like your readers to know is – ‘Hey, I know I have to be out front a lot of the time, but you know, I’m a regular guy – I’m just like you. I like being in the background.’ But, truth be told, you love being out front and there is no shame in that.
    Be honest with yourself and let go of the false modesty. You do not need the affirmation of others to enjoy what God has given you. If He has gifted you to lead from the front – revel in His enabling! Rejoice in your calling – don’t cower from it.
    In any case, all this talk of introversion and extroversion is a psychological construct. In reality we are much too dynamic to be put in a box marked introvert or extrovert.
    Finally, if you really are determined to be an introvert – do you really want these characteristics to be associated with you?
    – Fear
    – Hesitancy
    – Selfishness
    – Gloomy disposition
    – Negative feelings
    – Hopelessness
    No, I didn’t think so!
    Best wishes
    Parminder Summon

  • About 50% of all people are Introverts but in America many of us act like we are Extraverts because we are such an E Culture. This makes it difficult for an I to be accepted and affirmed. We affirm people who are always “on” and always socializing.
    In my view every church needs to offer the Myers Briggs to every member and teach all about the various preferences among us. This has been done and it reduces the pressure to conform to an E culture. Pastors need to shout preferences from the pulpits and urge I time for those who need it.
    My daughter is a strong I and we always gave her I Time so she could recharge her batteries after school. That kept her healthy.

  • Chris Rucker says on

    I am so thankful for this article right now. I have just recently come to terms with my introverted behavior. I didn’t actually know what it was for a long time. I’m 29 years old now, it has been a long road. I am realizing after reading this why I may have had some harder times while working in a ministry setting recently. You article encouraged me greatly tonight. Thank you!

  • Matthew Ladisa says on

    Well said. I am also an introvert. Nothing adds to my anxiety more than informal or unstructured social events or fellowship gatherings where small talk is required. Thank you for letting me know I’m not alone and the encouragement to press on in spite of the uncomfortableness.

  • Melissa Marlowe says on

    I actually am a twin. I have a twin brother.

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