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The Introverted Leader: Is That A Problem?

Question: I'm a fairly shy and introverted person who was recently promoted to a management/leadership position, where I'm expected to lead, inspire and motivate others. The trouble is that I'm not comfortable being in the spotlight, and am worried that this will interfere with my success. Do you have any suggestions?

History is characterized by many leaders who don't like being in the spotlight and have been exceedingly successful. The reason why we believe that leaders need to be outgoing and charismatic is that that's the ones that attract the most attention in the media, because they make good press. There are millions of leaders working quietly and effectively, who do not like the spotlight, which of course is why we don't hear about them.

So, your concern about being a "shy leader" probably has more to do with your fears than being a vaild concern about leadership.

There's some evidence to suggest that shy leaders are not only effective but can be more effective than the heroic and charismatic leaders we always here about. Jim Collins is the author the the best selling book "From Good To Great", and has researched leadership in organizations extensively. Collins notes that in his five year study, the leadership who came out as most successful relative to peers were relatively unknown outside of their sectors or organizations -- in other words they stay away from the spotlight.

He suggests that we may be shifting from the heroic leader to the anti-hero type of leader in terms of effectiveness, and that humility is an essential part of leadership effectiveness. He phrases this as follows:

Effective leaders are modest and wilful, shy and fearless.

Here's a few tips:

  • Leadership success is based far more on your ability to build real relationships with employees under you than it is based on charisma and your ability to dance in the spotlight. Consistency, honesty, openness, concern about others, and all those other good human things are more important over the long haul. Work on those, since that's probably where your strengths lie.
  • If people see you as genuine they will invest more trust in you. Don't try to be something you are not. While you might try to be a more effective speaker, for example, you shouldn't be trying to be someone you are not. Better a genuine leader than one who comes across as faking it.
  • Remember this rule: Focus on using your personal strengths and abilities, minimize the effects of your weaknesses, and consider addressing your weaknesses without becoming a slave to them.


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