When looked up in the dictionary, a leader is described as a person who leads or commands a group of people. Growing up from elementary school up until college, we are constantly taught about what qualities a “leader” must possess. Confidence, authority, and courage are just a few of the many attributes that people in leadership positions must hold.
I have always been a soft-spoken person. My persona is very “chill," as my friends describe me, and I don’t really like to voice my thoughts in a group of people unless it pertains directly to an issue that is having difficulty being discussed. Basically, listening is what I do best.
Now don’t get me wrong, being introverted doesn’t mean that I don’t like conversing or politicizing my feelings; I’d just much rather allow my peers to lead the conversations and have the opportunities to fully share what they would like to share than interject my own. Recently however, I find myself struggling to break out of the lines I had drawn myself in when I applied and received a leadership position in my sorority.
Leading can be nerve wracking when surrounded by outspoken people. The conversations tend to move fast as ideas flow and getting a say in can be stressful. I found that in the first meeting with the group of girls I had to work with now, I ended up saying about three things: my name, my position, and my experience. Leaving the meeting I felt overwhelmed and as though I wouldn’t be able to contribute to anything. Like most people when they’re sad, I called the most knowledgeable person I knew: my mom.
I explained to her that I had fun, it was just hard to speak up in a room of such dominant personalities. She laughed at me and then hit me with the long awaited mom advice: to just speak. She said that she knew it was difficult for someone so introverted to work up the courage to speak their mind, and then on top of that interrupting people was the ultimate no. Sometimes however, you just have to do it.
If you start talking authoritatively with an “I” statement, such as starting a sentence with “I believe that” or “I feel as though”, to direct the attention onto yourself, your peers will gradually start to expect your input in conversations. Of course, being the college student that I am, I hung up the phone and then decided to put the advice at the back of my mind, not recalling it again until our second meeting.
All of the girls were talking and sharing wonderful ideas and thoughts. There came multiple times when I wanted to speak up or intervene, but I did not have the guts to. Then I remembered a line from my favorite movie, We Bought a Zoo, “it only takes 20 seconds of courage," along with my mother's advice.
So, as the conversation kept rolling along, I waited until I had something to add. “I believe that," was how I started my sentence which immediately caught attention. I spoke my short, 5 second thought, and then the conversation kept going.
Now I know, you’re all probably rolling your eyes at this, but hear me out! It was a huge step for me. How was I supposed to lead other people if I couldn’t even get a word in with my leadership team? By taking that tiny step forward, I felt more confident, authoritative, and courageous which are all qualities of a leader.
So, how can introverted souls make good leaders? Because we listen. Yes, it may take a lot of effort to say what we’re thinking and yes, we do enjoy letting others run the conversation, but we are there and we do have things to contribute. It takes us a lot of effort to voice it in a crowd of people, but once we do you’ll probably see the most confident side to us.
Introverts, I truly hope that you don’t continue to shy away from leadership roles in fear of speaking or being ignored due to a quiet demeanor. I’m just now learning how to lead, and I look forward to seeing my fellow listen-rather-than-speak friends step up and take the reins too!