Can an Introvert be an Effective Leader?

During a recent CLS coaching session, a bright emerging leader was beginning to doubt her potential unless she suddenly transformed into an extroverted social butterfly. We discussed this at length, and with her permission, I thought I would share some of the highlights with you.  

Some believe that a good leader is one who is gregarious, an expert networker, and an outward spokesman. Others misconstrue introversion as a lack of ambition, lack of social skills, or lack of ability to lead others. Additionally, a bubbly and social employee is often assumed to be an engaged one. This is all simply untrue. Need proof? Mahatma Gandhi, Michael Jordan, Oprah, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg – all self-identified introverts and incredibly inspirational and effective leaders.

Before we move on, let’s cover some basic definitions:

Introvert - someone who gets his or her energy from alone time rather than socializing.

Leadership - ability of an individual to "lead" or guide others that enhances their contribution to the realization of group goals.

Employee Engagement - the emotional commitment the employee has to the organization and its goals.

None of these would appear to be mutually exclusive and the definition of an introvert wouldn’t seem to have any negative impact on one’s ability to lead or engage.

Although effective leaders share several characteristics (i.e. self-aware, confident, agile, decisive), each are unique, and any personality type can make a good leader. While Introverts are typically not the loudest or most noticeable person in the room, they tend to build meaningful relationships and possess several other tendencies that make them great leaders. For example, introverts are inclined to be:

  • Attuned to emotional cues

  • Careful listeners

  • Receptive to suggestions

  • Thorough problem solvers

  • Motivated by high-quality work and productivity

Diversity in the workplace has been proven to provide huge value, and the same is true for diverse leadership teams. This allows organizations to reach all types of employees and complement each other’s shortcomings.  

My advice: Be unapologetically you. Honor your personality type. Don’t force yourself to be an extrovert, or “bubbly”. Recognize your strengths and utilize them to build effective teams!