Look at a job listing for any leadership position and you'll probably notice that people are looking for a superhuman. Not only must a leader be a visionary, but he or she must also be charismatic with people. Pastors must get the bottoms in the seat, but also produce well thought-out, deep sermons and set a compelling and Scriptural vision for a church. Political leaders must spend time "relating to" people and kissing babies. Leaders must be: Happy and hopeful. "On" in public, all the time. Yet, conscientious and attentive to detail.
We cannot, of course, have it all in one person.
I have wondered for a while now if part of the reticence to Mitt Romney as a presidential nominee is not only due to the occasional insensitive comment he makes or his position-shifting, but rather to some introvert tendencies that he seems to display. (Note: Though I attempted to do research on whether Governor Romney is, in fact, an introvert or not, I was unable to find any definitive data.)
Though we do not know for sure if Governor Romney is an introvert, we can certainly agree that he displays a certain social awkwardness and stunted ability to turn on the charisma and charm people.
Yet, we also know that Governor Romney thinks in a careful, nuanced way, as he did in his rich and resonant speech on his Mormon faith and religious faith in America in 2007. Romney is a deep thinker, but not necessarily skilled in extroverted back-slapping and baby kissing. People hold this against him, but I ask if his lack of people skills means he cannot be a great leader?
In my work as a pastoral intern and then as a pastor, I found two things to be true. One was that I was naturally shy and could easily use that as an excuse to hide out in my office, avoiding the difficulty of social interaction. Certainly, I brought some of people's occasional frustration with me on myself. For to be a good pastor, you must love and know your people, not just think about them.
But the second thing I found to be true was that while I often needed to stretch outside my comfort zone more than I did, like a rubber band, there was only so far I could be stretched without snapping. I can develop skills that do not come naturally, but I cannot change my overall personality. For good or for ill, I am an introvert. I like people, but I don't gain energy from being with them most of the time. I enjoy having long periods of time spent in thought and reflection. I function best when I can read, encounter new ideas, watch the world around me and carefully analyze what is good and what can be better. I like to listen to people and learn things about them, too. I believe I serve best when I am allowed to use these gifts, rather than hide them under a bushel, forever chasing the unreachable goal of an extroverted personality.
We need both extroverts and introverts in the world of leadership. Extroverts excel at reaching out to large groups of people and making them feel wanted, invited, and cared for. They know how to generate excitement and enthusiasm. They know how to get big groups of people together. They know how to form a tribe.
But introverts stand back in the shadows and carefully analyze not just the quantity but the quality of the work. They know that depth is just as important as breadth. Introverts listen to people; they pay attention. To put it baldly: They know when to shut up. They offer correctives and cautions that extroverts in their enthusiasm may have missed. In their willingness to spend time alone in thought, they help governments, companies and churches to develop integrity and depth in the work that they do.
Without introverts, it is hard to form a mission with depth. Without extroverts, it is hard to get people to buy-in to the mission.
Yes, I am painting in broad strokes. There is a continuum, to be sure, of introversion and extroversion. But to simply choose our leaders based on their charisma, without attention to their depth and character, is a mistake. Perhaps we ought to look at our potential and current leaders with an eye to whether they surround themselves with people who balance out their inadequacies, with an eye to their character, with an eye to the depth of their thought. After all, it is not enough to build a tribe if you have nowhere to lead them.
Note: Politics can be a powder keg and I am certainly not endorsing Governor Romney in this post, but am simply offering some food for thought, regardless of who each of us votes for in the midst of the election season.
For more on introverts and extroverts and leadership, check out this article on Psychology Today's website and this one on Forbes.com.