Introverts make great leaders
Introverts make great leaders. It’s a good headline, which happens to be true. So, why do those same great leaders sometimes lack self-confidence? And why do other people sometimes equate introversion with unconfident?
I’m a leader, I’ve held leadership roles my entire working life, including senior leadership roles in theatre and the arts for 13 years. I’m also a proud, confident introvert.
But back in 2017, a couple of months into a new leadership role in a new company, my director said to me "You’re doing well, you can be more confident." I know they meant to be encouraging but all I could think was ‘Why do they think I’m not confident? I know I’m doing a good job’.
After some consideration, I realised that they had mistaken the natural reserve of an introvert as a lack of confidence. Why? Because, as an introvert, I take my time to consider questions and discussions before responding; I’m not the loudest person in a meeting, nor the one who needs to be heard or to interrupt other people’s points; I speak up when I have something of value to contribute.
In team meetings and one to ones, I ask my team members how they are and what they need. And I’m open too about how I am and what I need. After all, going through a to-do list and priorities is important, but not as important as caring for and valuing individual team members and myself.
Introverts often have high emotional intelligence or EQ. We share values and attributes such as empathy, sensitivity, deep listening, considered thinking, we’re reflective and find energy in one to one settings or small groups. But we need to gather our energy before going into large meetings or social gatherings and can find it hard to respond if asked for an instant opinion on something we’ve not had a chance to consider, especially if we’re put on the spot in a group setting.
Over the years, I’ve put myself in situations where I’ve had to challenge every ounce of my introverted self, often being front and centre in some very difficult situations, be that running technical rehearsals for a tricky show, leading training or becoming the technical and production lead for one of the UK’s most iconic venues. I’ve been called unflappable, have been asked "How are you always so calm?", and been praised for always having the answers and for my confidence. Yes, on some of those occasions I have been confident and calm, on others I’ve absolutely been faking it and doing some very good swan acting.
So that I can lead and thrive in these challenging situations, I have found that I need to identify my strengths, needs and boundaries and where and how I find my resilience. These are of course different for everyone, but for me, they include time to myself to recharge and reset. I benefit hugely from pottering in the garden, walking in the woods and getting lost in a new book. I also need routine, to be challenged and occasionally - and conversely - to spend time in, or leading, a larger group of people.
Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve combined the need for challenge and groups of people by delivering training for 12 people at a time. Somehow, the last session ended up with 18 people (not 12), and I had to dig deep to find the confidence and energy to lead the group. But I did, and we all had fun, learned something new and left with increased confidence.
I’ve coached arts leaders who are introverts with low self-confidence and have come to coaching as they want to both be and importantly appear to be more confident. Through our sessions together, I’ve been proud to play a part in their journeys to build their self-esteem as they identify their own strengths, boundaries and needs, and where they find resilience. I’ve supported them to design their tools to help them appear to be confident, which in turn helps them become confident, in their skills, their leadership ability and themselves.