The Introverted Leader
We live in a world that seems to adore the extroverted. This has an impact even on the church world. A “faith and leadership” web article recently spoke of “the evangelical megachurch, which often centres around a dynamic, celebrity pastor who encourages others to also be extroverted in their faith.” It would seem that even the ministry world is in danger of being infected with the notion that success and extroversion go hand in hand.
But the truth is that many incredible, godly, successful, even famed leaders and influencers are introverts.
I am introverted too. And while my introversion troubled me for some time, I have come to joyous terms with who I am, and how to use it for God’s Kingdom.
Perhaps we should pause and just define Extroverts and Introverts for clarity.
The Urban Dictionary puts it this way:
An Extrovert is “someone who recharges their energy from being around people.” They “prefer the company of others as it makes them excited. It doesn’t mean that they are good with people or happy all of the time, but that other people’s company is important to them.”
An Introvert “prefers to spend time alone in order to recharge their inner being. An introvert may appear to be shy to others, but that is not necessarily an accurate label. Interacting with people and attention to multiple sources of stimuli tends to draw down an introvert’s energy causing them to eventually withdraw to spend time alone to re-energize. Small talk and pointless conversations tend to draw down an introvert’s energy rapidly.”
Of course, in truth, we all may have these qualities in varying measures and are even a little of both, depending on the circumstances. But if you’re an introverted leader in any way, here’s some things you may be feeling:
People weary you – and that makes you feel guilty. I mean, you’re supposed to LOVE people as a Christian leader – but dare you admit that you’d rather spend 6 hours studying the Bible than 6 hours with people?! People, and their issues, or opinions, or their hopes, simply drain you quicker than others. In fact, while an extrovert is replenished by others being around, the introvert needs replenishment BECAUSE others were around! How on earth do us introverts end up in leadership?!
Many Pastors I have met on my travels are introverts who deeply love the Bible, and study, and ideas, but they don’t feel that good with people. But the truth is, introverts DO love people deeply too. Perhaps they love them even more selflessly, because introverts KNOW that to relate to people takes energy – in other words, many of the social interactions of the introverted leader are a form of sacrificial giving. Introvert, you DO love people; it’s just that you love them from a different perspective than the extrovert.
You want friends – but not parties! I do love people, but a room full of people I don’t know is my worst nightmare. But then the preacher tells me that “Jesus loved parties” (He did seem at them often!) so now I feel guilty all over again, ‘cos I simply don’t know how to be like Jesus in this area! I LOVE the Jesus that disappeared up mountains to pray, but the party goer Jesus bewilders me!
You may feel like an imposter: In fact, many introverted leaders themselves feel slightly fake, an imposter among the “real” leaders, as so many successful extroverts seem to be both blinding communicators on stage and the life and soul of the relationships in their teams. That just doesn’t feel like me.
You feel jealous of the extrovert’s relationships: OK, so here’s a hard truth for an introvert, but the sooner we admit it, the sooner we can enjoy healthy relationships. The truth is that people may find it a lot easier to relate to an extrovert than to you. An extrovert seems to reach beyond themselves and build a relational bridge to others. But with the introvert, to others it can seem like the relational draw bridge is sometimes up! You might not realise it, but the unfortunate side of introverted behaviour is that people might think we’re not approachable, open, smiley enough, engaging enough. And so we don’t build friendships or enjoy social occasions as easily – and others don’t enjoy them with us as easily either. This can lead to an introvert feeling lonely or side-lined relationally. On this point, introverts can even feel jealous of extroverts and their easy going social circles.
But there is hope…
The first thing to do with this is relax, look in the mirror and laugh at the unique wonder of who you are: “Yes, I’m harder to get to know, and not everyone may not easily warm to me, but I AM a loyal friend, and once you get into my circle of relationships, you may just find a deeper friendship than any extrovert can offer!”
You have to know you are wonderful and worth getting to know, if you’re going to build great friendships from the personality of an introvert.
The second thing to do is to practice relational connection, in short bursts (especially if you’re both shy AND introverted). Prepare for it, brace yourself, arrive energised and say “Right, I’m going to engage with people for the next hour. I’m going to smile, do small talk, have a few prepared conversations to bring up and give an hour to build some deeper connections with a few people in this room.” Practice connecting with people, (fake it ‘til you make it!) and you will begin to grow a more mature you, who can be a little more engaging. And that will help your leadership immensely.
Here’s a few other things to do as an introverted leader:
Give of yourself emotionally. Sometimes in staff meetings I have to verbally encourage the introverted team members to resist retreating to the corners of the room and getting lost in their smart phones during break-times. I know the urge to shut down, hibernate a little and get engrossed in something that takes no emotional energy is strong. But to lead, to relate, to be on a team, to build the true glue of genuine relationships, the introvert has to be very purposeful at giving to others emotionally, otherwise we become pulpit communicators, but not fathers, mothers, brothers and team members in the faith.
“For God so loved…He gave” (John 3:16) – to the introvert the cost of loving and giving may not come in the pulpit or the wallet; your sacrifice might be emotional, as you give a little more of yourself to others than is comfortable to you. But as you do, you will find your leadership becomes oiled with the grace that only relational leadership can produce. You’ll be a better friend, husband, wife, leader, if you turn up with some relational energy to give away.
Replenish Well. Plan your diary well, by spotting exhausting times of high relational intensity. Give space to prayer, thinking, replenishing and time alone with your thoughts. Sundays are going to be more exhausting to you than to the extrovert leader, so plan your Mondays well.
Overcome social guilt. You might find people tiring, but the truth is that ultimately relationships are still very rewarding. Don’t feel bad about who you really are, just learn to do you, well!
Speak up more. If you’re an introverted leader, you do need to go to planning & discussion meetings ready to participate in ways that seem abnormal to you. While the extroverts will all chatter away easily in discussions, the introverts will often sit quietly pondering (it’s how we often process, while many extroverts process out loud).
Unfortunately, this means the introvert can be misunderstood, appearing like they don’t care, aren’t invested in the group, don’t have any vision, drive or opinions. It can seem like a “shrug” to the room, when an introvert leader simply sits observing a discussion.
You are important, your opinion matters. Try to share a few ideas, even if it’s prefixed with “Well, I’m just thinking out loud here but….” Give some signals to the room that you’re interested, thinking, that you care. It will oil the wheels of the team.
Remember your strengths. Lastly, remember that the introvert can be a powerful force for good. Introverts make better listeners & better innovators as they often ponder more deeply, and truly listen to hear, rather than feeling the urge to reply with their own opinion too quickly. Introverts are great thinkers, and so discovery and invention often owes its accolades to the introverts. Prophets and prophetic ministries are often introverts, as they savour being before God to hear from Him even more than delivering messages to others. Introverts make great writers, songwriters, artists, problem solvers, scientists, influencers and Bible teachers. They are not easily distracted. They are often more driven by ideas than ambition. They are thorough. Often the relationships an introvert has, are more meaningful than the extroverts many connections.
So whether you are an introvert or an extrovert – or some mix of the two, LOVE being you. You are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” (Psalm 139) You are “God’s work of Art.” (Eph 2:10) You are perfect for the destiny He has made for you. So be brave, keep maturing, and be awesome at who He made you to be!