Introversion and Leadership
Contrary to the idealized notion of the extroverted leader, introverts can be just as effective—albeit in different ways.
In an interview with Academic Leader, Candace Atamanik, research manager in the Center for Leadership at Florida International University’s College of Business, explained how introverts lead and how to create an environment that is conducive to the ways introverts lead.
Atamanik says that introverts have two qualities that can serve them well as leaders: they’re good listeners, and they empower their people.
Introversion is particularly compatible with servant leadership—taking a back seat to one’s followers and empowering them rather than managing them—an approach that seems particularly suited to the higher education setting. “Higher education is an autonomous environment. People are self-motivated. They have their own research streams that they focus on. Faculty need some guidance and direction, but certainly they don’t need somebody looking over their shoulder to make sure they get the job done,” Atamanik says.
In a recent study, Atamanik examined whether the work environment has an effect on introverted leaders’ effectiveness and well-being, comparing leaders in a competitive (corporate) environment with those in a collaborative (education) environment.
The introverted leaders in this study performed equally as well as the extroverted leaders did, but their sense of well-being was not equal in both environments. “The difference was in their sense of engagement and organizational support. In academic environments, introverts felt equally as supported and engaged as extroverts did, but we found that in corporate environments introverts felt less supported and engaged,” Atamanik says.
Although academic environments may be conducive to nurturing introverted leaders, there are steps that introverted leaders can take to maximize their leadership opportunities. Atamanik offers the following advice to introverts:
- Put yourself in leadership situations. “Introverts tend to shy away from the situations where they would be required to lead others. We have been taught that quiet, reserved people don’t make the best leaders. That can actually affect people’s self-efficacy and feeling of self-worth. Regardless of your level of introversion, you should try to put yourself in a leadership position,” Atamanik advises. “Certain environments would be more conducive to introverts being leaders—those that are more supportive and more open, that allow for collaboration and opportunities for communication and certainly embrace a quieter leadership style.”
- Create a support system. Find one or two people to connect with who can serve as a support system. “Rather than trying to speak to everyone and get all these sound bites out there, have a few people you can really rely on and bounce ideas off of. That way you can feel comfortable and have the protection to share and open up without feeling the need to be talking with everyone in the department,” Atamanik says.
- Take time to prepare. Introverts tend to struggle with extemporaneous communication with groups of people and on-the-spot thinking can be very stressful. Atamanik recommends that introverts take the time to think through what they are going to say.
Atamanik, Candace. 2013 “The Introverted Leader: Examining the Role of Personality and Environment.” Florida International University Center for Leadership. Accessed on February 11, 2014, at http://lead.fiu.edu/_assets/docs/Introverted%20Leaders.pdf.