Survival Guide for Introverted Leaders – Shocking Facts & Insights
Nobody ever believes me when I tell them I’m an introvert. I tell people that I’m actually a naturally quiet guy and they all laugh — probably because they hear my super-passionate messages and humor every Sunday. Or when people read my book Pharisectomy, they laugh out loud at the comedy and think, “This guy MUST be the life of the party.” And don’t get me wrong, I’m not guy who’s drooling in the corner. But I’m not “naturally” gregarious. Honestly, I’ve spent years burying the introverted me… but it’s still there. According to the Meyers-Briggs, I’m actually a very strong introvert (INTJ). And if you don’t know what you are, here’s a link to a free Jung personality test.
Part of the reason people are surprised is because they don’t really understand the definition of an introvert. Some automatically think it means you’re shy or never talk (& yes, those people do have a higher likelihood of being introverts). But it’s actually a measurement of where you get your energy and clarity. For extroverts, social interaction brings energy and clarity; whereas for introverts, energy comes from solitude or through a small numbers of intimate friends. And a large part of it has a genetic basis (about 40%). Research can actually determine introversion in newborn babies (as they are more sensitive to external stimuli, like lights / sounds / etc.). Indeed research has even shown that introverts subconsciously tend to listen to music at a slightly lesser decibel levels! It’s not so much that it’s painful; rather their physiological reaction to things is stronger; therefore, to focus they need space.
To complicate things, America is one of the most “extrovert dominated” nations in the world – where business models have been obsessed with rewarding and elevating extroverted values. Global research has even proven that Americans (unlike the rest of the world) actually perceive fast talkers and gregarious people as more intelligent — even better looking! Not surprisingly, American’s are also irrational advocates of “extrovert-biased” leadership techniques (like group brainstorming, open office floor-plans and meeting formats) even though, research is now finding all of these practices to have a devastating effect on both the morale and creativity of an organization. Yet even still, people keep cranking out business books advocating these things.
Don’t get me wrong, there are in fact, a lot of advantages to extroversion. Extroverts are statistically better at ignoring unjust criticism. They’re better at injecting confidence into a group of people. Of course, there’s a flip side to this “gift.” They’re also less likely to learn from their mistakes… less likely to listen to “justified” criticism… and they’re more likely to have extra-marital affairs. (Ouch!)
And for years, I started to believe all of the bias. I’ve seen my introversion as a liability… a thing that hinders my influence. And especially as a senior pastor, I’ve always felt like a fish out of water. After all, I’ve never had the natural ability to schmooze in the church foyer, or glad-hand in public forums. Don’t get me wrong: I still do it. In fact, in the beginning of our church, we hosted dinners for over 80 people/week. We replaced all of the carpets in our humble home because we couldn’t afford to keep professionally cleaning them. We essentially lived communally for several years. And finally, when I decided that I’d rather quit and die than continue to pretend to be an extrovert, I asked God why he had made me this way. Thankfully, he opened me up to a massive amount of flattering research about introverts.
For example, it’s a statistical fact that introverts tend to dominate the most creative and innovative positions in most fields (consider Einstein, Warren Buffet, Stephan Spielberg, Steve Wozniak — Co-founder of Apple, Tom Hanks, Steve Martin, Dr. Seuss, Chris Martin – the brain behind Coldplay). Introverts are more likely to develop their skills to exceptional degrees due to a higher level of focus (I can’t help but to think of my brilliant guitar playing friend Michael Gungor). They’re more likely to learn from mistakes… more likely to delay gratification. They’re hands down better at assessing complex decision involving risks and rewards (which is why introverts statistically dominate at poker). And even though they’re devalued in American leadership structures, introvert dominant cultures like China now own the world. (So who get’s the last laugh? … probably still extroverts, cause introverts retired from the party a long time ago : )
But if you’re a closet introvert, don’t fear. There’s a lot more of you out there than you think.
Here are a few coping techniques…
(1). Don’t compare yourself to Brilliant Extroverts: I have many extroverted pastor friends who can preach 6 services, and spend every minute in-between shaking hands – and people LOVE them! Don’t get me wrong, I still try to do this as much as I can; but it costs me more. For years, I considered quitting ministry because I couldn’t do this. I just didn’t fill “the role” I imagined pastors need to have. And to boot, I have vocal problems that cause me to lose my voice rather quickly. Thankfully, I’ve since torn up that script of an extrovert-ideal. Since then, I’ve also met numerous brilliant giga-church pastors (like Greg Surratt of Seacoast) who’ve built amazing churches without fulfilling the “extroverted ideal.” And my staff now sarcastically jab me saying: “Pastor, you love people. You just don’t love them in person!” Of course, I don’t truly believe this statement; yet, …I also didn’t become a good writer / church strategizer by talking all the time either.
(2). Remember that God created you to win through different strengths. You might not build your church on a thousand hand-shakes; but simply sowing your whole heart into six dynamic leaders can create the same impact. Besides, when we lead through our greatest strengths, it can be a mind-blowing attractional force. Steven Spielberg didn’t get his influence due to his networking prowess (although many producers do); Instead, like many other successful introverts, he allowed his extra ability to focus (unique to introverts) to sharpen his skills to a mind-blowing level. And eventually this exceeding talent did all of the networking and magnetizing for him. Don’t get me wrong: EVERY good leader needs to develop networking, magnetism, and vision casting skills regardless of their personality. But eventually, you’ll find that there are some people who are exceptionally gifted for networking. Don’t get discouraged; instead, make up for it by tapping into your focusing/thinking/listening skills.
(3). Surrounded yourself with extroverted leaders. I’ve always been vigilant about stacking my teams with typological balance. Besides, when I’m slowing down, I love watching them jitter into action.
(4). Read books about Introversion. Don’t let your introversion be an excuse. Learn how to maximize its benefits and mitigate its weaknesess. Self-awareness is the bedrock of emotional intelligence. That’s why we force all of our staff to virtually memorize Myers-Briggs books like Type Talk or Please Understand Me. With a simple test I can actually predict a huge number of things about you – even which of you “hate personality tests.” Another book I recently devoured was Quiet, by Susan Cain (and much of the research in this blog comes from there).
(5). Don’t let Anyone Look Down on You: People constantly make me feel bad for not spending more time with them. I used to live with a chronic feeling of guilt that I’m not meeting more people. Almost once a month, someone “leaves the church” because I didn’t remember them or I didn’t have the time to meet with them. (A phenomenon that even extroverted pastors have to deal with this). Like Jesus, you too will be overwhelmed by the masses of people who are like “sheep without a shepherd.” People guilted Christ for retreating to “lonely places.” That’s why Jesus commanded us to “pray for harvest workers.” No matter how many people you meet, it’s not enough. Even Jesus’ family got angry about his availability. And don’t get me wrong: You do need to prioritize family above flock; but, in a world that needs Jesus, you will never be enough. Don’t try to be the savior of the world – no matter what personality you have. The world will simply have to learn how to appreciate just you.