How to Survive and Thrive as an Introverted Leader
Leading others through your example
I’m an introvert and active in our church.
Being involved in church stuff is pretty much in my DNA. I was born this way! Well, perhaps it’s more accurate to say I was shaped this way.
As a kid, church was central to our family life. If the church doors were open, we were there. Mom and Dad were always doing something as a deacon, board member, Sunday school teacher, officer, and more. My sister and I were mostly happy to follow along.
The challenge for me now is that, as an introvert with a desire to be involved, I’ve got to be careful not to burn out.
Over the years I’ve learned a few tactics to keep me from crashing into a heap of nothing good. When I follow these tactics, I can better help people engage with God’s Word, mostly through the example I am setting:
From time to time when I realize all I’ve agreed to do in our church I’ll exclaim our loud, “What have I done!” Coupled with this is the creeping desire to just withdraw from everything and hide indefinitely.
If you find yourself feeling like this, the trick is to not panic. Feeling overwhelmed may mean you just need to take a minute and collect yourself.
Think about Elijah, who I suspect was an introvert. After he defeated the prophets of Baal, he ran away:
“But he himself went a day's journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, ‘It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.’ And he lay down and slept under a broom tree …” 1 Kings 19:4-5a.
Yes, I know this feeling! When I’m at this place, I stop, assess exactly what’s going on, plot out mentally what I have to do, and remind myself to take one step at a time.
In most instances, just slowing down and taking a break settles my spirit and my enthusiasm returns. Occasionally I may come to the realization I need to let something go and find someone else to take over a task. And that’s okay.
Get some rest
Sometimes, just like Elijah, all I need to do is take a nap. Seriously. A little snooze can go a long way in refreshing an introvert’s soul and mind.
The worst thing you can do as an introvert is to keep on keeping on. You will definitely crash and burn.
When you’re feeling stressed, instead of grabbing an energy drink, take a nap. Or do something else that diverts your mind from your tasks, something that’s relaxing so you can recharge.
Let people know you are an introvert
Many corporate PR and communications people were English majors in college —and are introverts. Yes, I don’t get it either, but that’s been my career trajectory.
A few years ago, I agreed to lead a local chapter of an international business communicators’ group. In chatting with my vice president one day, I was talking about being an introvert. Her response stunned me. She said, “That’s fine, just don’t tell others.”
Her reaction reveals a common extrovert bias against introversion, viewing it as a deficit. What she was telling me was, “It’s nice you’re an introvert, but be more like an extrovert.”
I completely disagree. I regularly let people know that I am an introvert as well as what that means.
First, God created each us with our various personality traits for a reason. We each have something of value to contribute. There is no shame in being an introvert.
Second, what I’ve found is people appreciate my openness and are eager to learn more about personality types. More than once I’ve had people declare, “I’m an introvert, too!” as they recognized in themselves the traits we’re talking about. And in every instance when this happens it’s been helpful to them.
Find strength in God’s Word
Many Bible characters were introverts, or at least exhibited introvert tendencies.
I believe Gideon was an introvert. He was called by God to stand against and defeat a vast army (Judges 6–8). In the process of processing this call, he was cautious, methodical, and humble. Putting out the fleece was not an act of faithlessness. Rather, it was his way of ensuring he was not being presumptuous.
And then there’s Esther. She came to realize that she was called “for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14) and, in humility and at great risk, quietly made moves to ensure the safety of her people.
Paul advises Timothy, “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12). Swap out “youth” with “introversion” and the advice is perfectly apropos for introverts. A quiet, steady example can often speak more loudly than, well, speaking loudly! And when people see that example, it may be that their reading practices will begin to mirror the positive parts of my introversion and help them with quiet, steady engagement with God and Scripture.
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