Stop limiting who can lead

More diverse leaders will expand your organization's potential

Your voice cracks, your knees shake and your head spins. Being in charge of people can be so overwhelming that your body begins to illicit physical responses. For many, this is a common reaction to speaking in front of a group. When you're shy, it can be unbearably stressful when you’re condescendingly being told to develop leadership skills.

I’ve considered myself an introvert all my life. Before college I never thought I could be a leader — I was happy in the background. However, once I joined The American Marketing Association, I surprised myself; I realized how badly wanted to lead.

I became Vice President of Partnerships, a role where I have to speak publicly and reach out to professionals I've never met before. After I acclimated, my whole perspective changed — I realized what an excellent leader I was. 

It's easy to let your naturally outgoing peers take the reins. However, the idea that shy people cannot lead is problematic. We need to destroy the idea that some people are born with the ability to lead and some aren’t. 

Leadership isn’t a natural born skill, extraversion is. Extraverted people tend to have an easier time gaining leadership roles because they are more comfortable with being in the limelight, but this doesn’t mean they’re automatically better leaders. In fact, studies show that those who learn to lead tend to be better than those who are “naturals."

Leaders are made, not born. While it takes years of development and practice to become a skillful leader, we still often assume extraverts are better leaders simply because they’ve captured our attention.

Those who learn to lead have a better understanding of the specific skills they need to develop. Learned leaders have a better understanding of group dynamics. Their leadership skills have been refined by trial and error – they’re not just winging it.

We have to stop limiting our idea of leaders. Leadership is not one size fits all; it doesn’t look the same on every person. Every leader brings something different to the table.

Fostering the idea that introverts can’t lead is incredibly restricting. Introverts need to stop buying into this idea because it caps their potential and wastes their talent.

If you only have extraverted leaders, you’ll only have one way of thinking, and your organization will lack diversity and innovation. In short, you’ll be standing still.

Leaders who are more shy are often able to better connect to individuals within the group they're leading because they tend to be very observant. By understanding and relating to more group members, these leaders increase productivity and decrease turnover, thus making the groups they’re leading more efficient and effective.

If you’re introverted, I encourage you to step out of your comfort zone – discomfort is conducive to learning and growth.

“The only cure to social anxieties is to face those anxieties,” said psychologist Tim Jordan. “I’ve seen people filled with self-doubt become some pretty fantastic leaders by simply just doing what scared them.”

Introducing diverse styles of leadership will fundamentally change the way organizations work. Some people respond more to those who are extraverted, while some respond more to those who are introverted. Neither style is better; however, clinging to extraverted leadership will only hinder an organization from meeting its potential.

Introverts possess the capacity to be game-changing leaders. They simply have different perspectives. Let's acknowledge this potential and throw out the idea that extraverts are inherently leaders and introverts are inherently followers.

Our generation is about inclusiveness, so let's stop excluding those who don’t look like our traditional picture of leadership.


Reach the columnist at sljorda4@asu.edu or follow @skyjordan15 on Twitter.

Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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