The Quiet Leader

The quiet of winter seems an appropriate time to write about the quiet leaders, the introverts. Leaders come in all packages ― some flashy, some noisy and some quiet and watching. Introverts play a special role on teams and as leaders — they are the observers, the analyzers. Let’s first clear up a common misperception. Being an introvert does not equate with being shy. Shyness is a fear of social disapproval or humiliation; introversion is a preference for environments that are not over-stimulating. The famous Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Jung, talked about the “north” and “south” of temperament — introverts and extroverts. Many of you may be familiar with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). The authors of the MBTI instrument, Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers, studied and elaborated the ideas of Jung and applied them to understanding people around them. The MBTI measures your personality along the scales of Introvert-Extrovert, Sensing-Intuition, Thinking-Feeling and Judging-Perceiving. In the book, The Portable Jung by Joseph Campbell, introverts are described as “educators and promoters of culture. Their lives teach more than their words.” In the world of work, introverts work more slowly and deliberately. They tend to focus on one task at a time. Conversely, extroverts tackle assignments quickly, make fast decisions and multitask. Introverts are geared to inspect; extroverts are geared to respond. In the bestseller, Good to Great, Jim Collins researched characteristics that made a company outperform its competition. Of the 11 companies he profiles, everyone was led by an unassuming leader. Collins speaks of “Level 5 Leaders,” those with extreme humility coupled with intense personal will. The lesson Collins imparts is that “we need leaders who build not their egos, but the institutions they run.” Susan Cain in her book, Quiet, offers further encouragement: “If you’re an introvert, find your flow by using your gifts. You have the power of persistence, the tenacity to solve complex problems and the clear-sightedness to avoid the pitfalls that trip others up. You enjoy relative freedom from temptations like money and status. Indeed your biggest challenge may be to fully harness your strengths.” One strategy for introverts to get their message heard includes teaming up with an extrovert. Al Gore teamed up with Hollywood types to get out his message on global warming and created the movie, An Inconvenient Truth. Another strategy is to shift your perspective when you need to “brag.” If you are in an interview or when you are asking for a raise, instead of dreading having to promote yourself and brag, view it as simply sharing results. Introverts tend to downplay their achievements, so just make a list of your results. Did you increase sales? By how much? Are your customer service scores three times the industry average? How did you impact employee retention, donations, customer retention, profit or whatever measurables are important to your organization? Introverts have made significant contributions throughout history. View your quiet style as a gift. You are in fine company — Vincent Van Gogh, Rosa Parks, J.K. Rowling, Eleanor Roosevelt, Albert Einstein and Frederic Chopin. And in the words of another famous introvert, Gandhi, “In a gentle way, you can shake the world.”

Tags: Business coach, leaders


Susan Combs

Susan Combs, MBA and Professional Certified Coach, works with coaching clients to create fresh starts, enhance their leadership skills and increase their confidence. She is an authorized licensee of the Fit Leader's Program. Susan provides one-on-one coaching, DiSC team-building training and manages corporate mentor programs. She lives in Lansing with her son, Max, and their golden retriever puppy. Visit or for more information.

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