Leadership for Introverts

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This article is featured in the Holy Conversation (Feb/Mar/Apr 2011) issue of Circuit Rider
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As a kid I was pretty normal. I played sports with my friends, enjoying all of the exciting kids’ stuff young people do. As I stumbled through adolescence and into my twenties, I started noticing something different about me. To my amazement I often retreated from crowds and public events that other people seemed to find energizing. After growing in my understanding of personality traits, I was able to put a name to my behavior. I was and still am an introvert.

“Introversion” is a fancy label for defining a shy or reserved personality, as one dictionary source states it. Psychologically, though, it refers more to one’s preference for solitary or small-group activities. An introvert needs time alone to “recharge,” whereas an extrovert is energized by social interaction. We can all operate in different personality styles, but at the end of the day, we will revert to our dominant personality trait.

As a young man, I exhibited all of the classic signs. I remember wanting to go to big high school events or college parties, but being literally frightened of the crowds and the fear of rejection. This makes my vocational path seem somewhat bizarre. As I was adjusting to the reality of my personality, I felt this wonderful call to ministry. As a teenager, I remember hearing what I heard as God’s voice, “I want to tell young people how to get to heaven.” I was totally okay with the “heaven” part, but must have overlooked the “people” part of the call. I guess I thought ministry would be all about God and I, and I would never have to interact with people. Now I know ministry is all about people.

Slowly and surely, God challenged me to cast my net wide and to develop relationships with more people than I cared to meet. Uncomfortable as it is, “Go and make disciples of all nations” defines the essence of my call. It is a blessing that God chose an introvert like me to answer such a wonderful call to mix and mingle with as many people as possible. Out of all of the challenges I have faced in my life, one of the most difficult is to break out of my shell to meet people who are more outgoing, conversational, charismatic, and fun-loving. (This is not to say introverts do not possess these characteristics, but introverts like me most likely want to skip the party to hang out at home or in a less crowded place, just doing their own thing.) When meeting someone initially, I can act like an extrovert for roughly five and a half minutes, then I always slide back into my comfortable shell.

As leaders, we are called to honor our authentic selves, but also to challenge ourselves to be in relationship with diverse groups of people. Over the years I have come to accept the way God made me, and not let my introversion be a hindrance to ministry.

If you are an introverted leader like me, consider the following tips:

1. Marry, date, or make friends with an extrovert. I know this may sound crazy, but these relationships can create a wonderful tension in your life. My wife is an extrovert, and it is through her love for me that I have jumped out of my shell on many occasions and ended up having fun. I also credit many of my extroverted friends and team members for helping me discover a whole new me!

2. Be intentional about forming relationships. Balance your work, recreational, and personal circles with people who have various personality types. People who are even more introverted than you can help you grow in certain ways, while friends with other strengths will challenge you in other ways. This balance and diversity will help you stay actively engaged in the pursuit of personal development as you stretch yourself to connect with a variety of people, making you a better leader. Make it a goal to gather more diverse types of people around you and contributing to your life.

3. See your introverted personality trait as a blessing. Accepting yourself with your own unique personality and gift mix honors who you are and the God who made you. Although at times you may operate in different personality traits, accept the fact that you will most likely live your whole life as an introvert, and that that’s okay!

4. Lead out of your strength. I have discovered most introverts are great strategic thinkers, passionate about life, and deeply committed people. They can be great listeners, understanding and compassionate. They can connect with people on a more personal level, talking one-on-one or through written notes and letters. If you are an introvert, these are some of your best leadership qualities. Use them as often as you can.

There is hope for all of my fellow introverted leaders out there. God is still calling introverts today. I can name a few from biblical times and I can surely name even more contemporary examples in our society. Introverts are often misunderstood as lacking people skills or being overly shy, but this assumption is far off base. Introverts love and care for people in strong and passionate ways, but may find more indirect means of expression than walking across the room to introduce themselves to a stranger. God uniquely calls each of us out of our comfort zones into the public square.

So, hold your head up high, knowing that God has a plan for your life and that your personality serves a unique purpose in the Kingdom. Psalm 139 declares you are fearfully and wonderfully made. Your personality is not a flaw or a liability, but a gift from the Creator. Go forth in faith and continue to lead.

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