I was always intrigued by the question whether introverts can really lead? And if yes, can they just lead, as any imbecile hereditary heir to the throne is expected to, or provide legendary leadership?
We do live in a society where it is drilled into our heads that in order to successfully lead you must act assertively, boldly and be willing to take the centre stage. In the process, not only do you have to be fine with such ‘qualities’ as arrogance and over-confidence but in some circumstances it is even considered desirable to carefully cultivate such traits.
If you are quiet and shy, you will be asked to overcome your “shyness” or “introversion”. Or forget your dreams of leading anyone.
“Awaken your extroverted self”, they tell you.
Let me clear the misconception right away. Introverts cannot only lead but make outstanding leaders.
For my research, I had to plod through quite a few books and articles on introverts who History recognises as successful leaders. And I was surprised with what I found.
I discovered that introverts were not only successful as leaders but ultra-successful! And most of them are so extremely well-known that you will be surprised.
More importantly, they succeeded not because they could overcome their introversion, BUT because of their introversion.
Introverts have been successful in supposedly all extroverted fields of leadership be it military, politics, academics, or religion. Some led their troops into the battlefield (valiantly and violently) while others led quietly, non-violently or passively.
So what has made these introverts so successful?
Introverts are gifted with some natural strengths which if utilised well can turn any quiet person into a successful leader. First among these is a rich imagination.
We speak less but think a lot. The outside world does not know what we are thinking. But the same thought process can lead to a vision or a dream.
Every successful introverted leader in the ‘stories’ narrated in Celebrating Quiet Leaders had a rich vision. He or she dreamt of seeing her people free or envisaged a nation that safeguarded the health and happiness of its people.
Next, these leaders took small but concrete steps to set up institutions that delivered results and carried forward their vision even hundreds of years after they were gone.
Third, they had, like all introverts, an analytical mind and were cautious by nature. You may think that a cautious person may not excel in military matters where throwing yourself straight into the battlefield is considered valour.
But you may be amazed to know that some of the greatest military generals in history were defensive by nature.
They were able to pull off some amazing victories only because they took the time to think, plan and act decisively. They carefully studied the terrain, tactics and the weaknesses of their enemies. And they didn’t lead by making grandiose speeches but by setting an example.
Which takes me to the fourth point. Introverts by nature do not like to be the centre of attention. Then how can they make excellent leaders?
Remember the old saying “Action speaks louder than words.” We live in a world where our so-called leaders promise too many things (eloquently) but deliver on none.
For introverts, it is easier to act than to say. This is a strength NOT a weakness. And this is what makes people believe in your integrity and character.
In many of the stories in Celebrating Quiet Leaders, you will read about how shy people kept sitting when they were asked to stand and then driven by an inner voice picked up a broom and started sweeping the floor that led to the greatest revolutions of all times.
These were all simple acts. There was no grandiose, no earth-shaking act of bravery and yet the outcome took quite a few breaths away.
As a leader, you are expected to make speeches. But if you don’t like making speeches, how on earth can you then lead a revolution?
Don’t worry. I find that when introverted leaders spoke, they spoke out of conviction. Their speeches touched a chord because it came straight from their hearts. As an introverted leader, it is easier to speak when your passions are aroused.
You may be shy in real life and troubled by bullies but when you see someone chopping a tree or shooting at a bird your passions are aroused. You are no longer shy or afraid to confront. You may even risk your life by standing up to protect a tree or to save a bird’s life. And you are not alone.
Your fellow quiet leaders that you are about to meet in Celebrating Quiet Leaders had all their passions aroused at some point. Though reserved by nature, our quiet leaders stood up to take cudgels and when they did that, they did so brilliantly.
And finally a word about religion. You may think that most prominent religious leaders were extroverts who carried God’s message eloquently. But let me surprise you once again: they were most likely introverts who just felt a close connection with God or their “inner selves”.
Celebrating Quiet Leaders contains stories about military, political, academic and religious leaders but the same principles can be applied to any business set up.
So, ladies and gentlemen, be prepared to immerse yourselves into tales of courage and valour shown by quiet, shy and sensitive men and women from ALL AROUND THE WORLD. You will read how these quiet leaders faced the biggest challenges and threats of their lives and how they rose from the ashes like the legendary Phoenix bird BUT quietly.
Like a ‘Quiet Phoenix’, as I call this series of books.
Most of these leaders are well-known. Therefore, in order to keep the mystery going, I have tried to hide their true identities just a little.
Warning: Don’t be surprised if you find that these leaders sound quite like you.
And even if you are an extrovert, I am sure you will learn a lot about leadership in general.