When I say the word ‘leader,’ what are the first thoughts that pop into your mind?
Outgoing. Charismatic. Open-minded. Friendly. Able. Approachable.
Chances are, our natural reaction is to think of that one CEO who smiles at us from the cover of Fortune 500, or perhaps that bubbly residential advisor back in college. The bottom line is that we tend to associate “leader” with “extrovert.”
Now time to go on a (related) tangent. I had applied to a Residential Life student leader position. We had to go through a group interview with 7-8 other applicants in a room, and we took turns answering questions while 5 silent observers…observed us.
To say that everyone tried to hog the spotlight is an understatement. The people I knew from previous courses suddenly went from being a regular “Oh, hello there” type to “Hi! How was your day? Remember how much fun we had in Spanish class? How was your week? Oh my gosh, I love that new haircut. This is exciting. How are you doing?” type.
The questions the interviewers asked us were thought-provoking and dealt with issues that members of the Residential Life staff would face, such as roommate issues, dirty dorm kitchens, etc. But of course, thanks to that one zealous applicant who couldn’t seem to contain her opinions for 2.4 minutes, our contemplative thoughts would all be interrupted with,
“Well, I think that as a student leader, we need to emphasize community and
(insert synonym for community here). I mean, we can’t just expect people to like not follow the rules. [insert dramatic wave of hands] What we need to do is promote (insert another synonym for community here) and that is clearly how this problem is solved. [sits back with an enormous smile usually reserved for dentists]”
The thing is, not all gregarious and extremely outgoing people make good leaders. Or maybe the better wording is, not all quiet and reserved people make bad leaders.
In fact, introverts do make great leaders–just through a different style. They probably aren’t going to jump in and invite you to a BBQ, but they possess the calm demeanor that is sometimes essential to leading a group or overseeing a task. Depending on the specific position, sometimes a good leader is just a person who’s a good listener and who can offer wise advice.
The true quality is a willingness and determination to get things done. But until then, schools and organizations will continue to pick from the bushels of eager, social, and outgoing extroverts.