Being an Introverted Leader

Positive IDentity Blog ,

Posted By Jessica Bender, Auxiliary Services Manager at Palm Beach State College

What comes to mind when you think of the word Introvert? I think we often immediately think about a quiet, lonely person who is always keeping to themselves. Right? Well, you might be surprised to realize that introverts can (and actually are) great leaders. Did you know that Abraham Lincoln, Eleanor Roosevelt, Rose Parks, Albert Einstein and Mahatma Gandhi were introverts?

One of the leading reasons why someone is considered an introvert is where they gain their energy. Introverts tend to feel drained by social situations and recharge by spending time alone. It has been suggested that 30 to 50 percent of the US population are introverts. However, if you think about much of the leadership training or articles that we see, many are geared toward extroverts.

Personally, I consider myself very much an introvert. I credit NACCU as well as Toastmasters for helping me to break free from my “Introvert comfort zone.” There is nothing wrong with being an Introvert.  One of the qualities that make Introverts great leaders and managers is that Introverts are often great listeners. We like to listen and reflect on the situation before taking action. Listening thoroughly to a customer or colleague before rushing into action will make the person feel heard and appreciated. Although, I can honestly say that I have been accused of being stand-offish or rude by not immediately having something to say in a situation. 

Introverts are also not necessarily shy; we likely prefer small group discussion versus large group situations. I joined Toastmasters a few years ago as I knew that if I was going to excel professionally, I had to be more comfortable in speaking situations. Toastmasters helped me work on my formal speaking as well as to develop confidence and comfort in impromptu speaking situations. NACCU has given me many opportunities to practice my speaking, among friends. It is always easier to speak when you have a few supporters in the audience. The wink or wave from a colleague or friend in the back of the room means a lot to someone who is working through a fear or aversion to speaking. I often encourage new NACCU members to consider presenting at a conference or for a webinar as it is a very friendly group and great environment for first time public speakers.

It is a running joke within my NACCU friends and family about how long I will spend in the exhibit hall at a conference. As you may guess, the exhibit hall is not necessarily my happy place. All of the people and crowds are draining to me. I work to find ways to balance my introversion with fulfilling my roles as both a representative of my College and a NACCU Board or committee member. I find it beneficial to have a plan for the day and recognize when my time was done. It is not the quantity of the time spent but the quality of the time. If you find situations like this draining, set up a plan with small goals and don’t force yourself too far out of your comfort zone. It’s ok! After the exhibit hall, I often retire to my room or to a corner of the hotel or patio area with my kindle.Don’t be surprised if your Introvert friends disappear for a little while.

I hope that I am an example for Introverts everywhere that you don’t have to be an Extrovert to be successful in your career. Sometimes we may have to try a little harder or pay closer attention to how we react in situations, but it is not impossible.

Want to learn more about introverts and leadership? Join us for a NACCU TedTalk: Leadership Needs Introverts (and Extroverts too) on Thursday, December 9

Jessica Bender is a former NACCU Board of Directors President and remains an active committee member. She has been at Palm Beach State College since 2007 and currently serves as Manager of Auxiliary Services. She has over 20 years higher education experience.