December 2, 2009 Tony Morgan

Why Introverts Make Good Leaders

You may have caught this article earlier this week on my twitter feed. Apparently it resonated with a bunch of you, because more than 1,000 people clicked the link to read it.

Jennifer Kahnweiler wrote about how many successful business executives describe themselves as being introverts. She reported the number may be as high as 40% including guys like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. In church world, I’ve heard rumors “team introvert” may include a pastor like Andy Stanley.

Kahnweiler then went on to give these reasons why introverts make good leaders:

  1. They think first, talk later.
  2. They focus on depth.
  3. They exude calm.
  4. They let their fingers do the talking.
  5. They embrace solitude.

It probably doesn’t surprise you to know that I’m an introvert. I don’t know whether or not those five attributes necessarily make good leaders, but I can certainly relate with each one of them. I’m guessing a few of you connect with those attributes as well.

So, what do you think? Do introverts make good leaders? And, more specifically, can introverts make good leaders in the church? After all, we’re in the people business. Can people who prefer solitude lead organizations that are all about people?

I’d encourage you to check out the full article. And, if you’re like me, you may also want to pick up Jennifer’s book on this same topic. Here’s my Amazon link to The Introverted Leader: Building on Your Quiet Strength.

Tony Morgan

Tony is the Founder and Lead Strategist of The Unstuck Group. Started in 2009, The Unstuck Group has served 500 churches throughout the United States and several countries around the world. Previously, Tony served on the senior leadership teams of three rapidly growing churches including NewSpring Church in South Carolina. He has five published books including, The Unstuck Church, and, with Amy Anderson, he hosts The Unstuck Church Podcast which has thousands of listeners each month.

Comments (17)

  1. Mary West

    My Pastor is an introvert and is a great leader. He keeps what he wants close at hand but knows how to reach out to anybody. Everyone he sees he recognizes that they all have value. He knows how to draw people out and how to reach them for Christ. He displays all 5 of the above characteristics. In His Love and Care, Mary

  2. There are definitely leadership strengths and weaknesses in both extroverts and introverts. Introverts can certainly thrive in the people business of leading a church, but I think it’s probably easier to pull of at larger churches where there’s less pull for the senior pastor to be the church’s point of contact.

    I’m an extrovert, btw.

  3. Thank you all (innies and outies) for tweeting, posting, etc. I really appreciate your insights. I think that many clergy, like professors, are naturally more introverted. They have, however, learned to flex their style and develop a multitude of people skills in dealing with their boards, congregations and communities. Their more extroverted staff members can also be a “point of contact” as Scott mentions. Smaller churches may have volunteers who can serve in this role. Keep your thoughts coming.

  4. Mark Asbell

    Innies & outies – like belly buttons…
    I believe I’m more of an ‘innie’ too and it seems being an introvert is often looked at through a negative lens. So I’m glad to see the positive attributes of innies being pointed out. Speaking of volunteers – I believe it is important for staff to be in-tune with a volunteers innie/outie tendency so they know where they might be happiest to serve.

  5. Hard to consider you an introvert when you blog so well and twitter so often, you find ways to express yourself unlike most introverts who stay quiet and to themselves most times.
    I’d say because I’m a strong leader I look for a leader who speaks up and leads with confidence. As long as they can do that I’m fine. I like your list, they are all great qualities, again a leader I will follow must speak clarity and vision at all times if I’m going to follow them successfully. Shy or not.

  6. Several thoughts Tony.
    1. Peter Drucker said he was always weary of charismatic leaders for so many reason. Their bent toward uber-extroversion can lead them and their organizations down dangerous paths. Both extremes (introvert/extrovert) are unhealthy without a balance.
    2. I am a church leader that asks the question all the time – “am I in the right spot in an organization all about people?” I have to answer “yes.” I tend to go deep with the leaders I work with while many around me go wide with the masses–I just need solitude to recharge. My introversion seems to be a strategic asset to me.

  7. Hey everyone,

    It’s interesting to me how much the topic of introverts in leadership is coming up these days. I actually just published a book with InterVarsity Press called Introverts in the Church, and among other things I discuss introverted pastors and leaders. Christian Century actually ran an excerpt of my book as their cover story last month – they called it “Can introverts lead?” Here is the link to that excerpt: http://www.christiancentury.org/article.lasso?id=7964

    I also have a blog devoted to this topic – http://www.introvertedchurch.com.

    There was a 2006 Barna study that found that 25% of senior Protestant pastors are introverts, a sizable number, even though the best studies say that 50% of the US population is introverted. I am an introverted pastor myself, and I have learned, and am learning, how to lead out of who I am, rather that what the culture might dictate.

    Introverts in the Church is on Amazon and elsewhere if you want to take a look.

  8. I am inspired to hear that we introverts actually have good qualities. Too many times I have been told that I need to come out of my shell and this is usually by somebody who needs to not talk so much. :)

    Extroverts and introverts are both needed in ministry.

    Here is a question: Can anybody name some introverts found in the Bible who were effective in ministry?

  9. @David Knapp: From what I understand, Moses seemed quite shy and introverted. He had trouble speaking; so much that he questioned God’s calling in his life because of this.(Exodus 4:10-12)

    If he wasn’t introverted, he was probably perceived that way and exuded qualities of an introvert as his brother Aaron often spoke for him in public because of his slowness of speech.

  10. I would add another category to this.

    Introverts are the best creative talent. Hands down. No contest. My best creative is shy, wouldn’t say boo to a goose. But ask her to be creative.

    Her work does all the talking

  11. Jesus was an introvert! [that would be a great book title!] He drew energy from time alone or with small groups. He was an excellent speaker and leader (obviously), which is the case with many, many introverts. It’s not a matter of talent. It’s a matter of preference and from where one receives energy.

    “you find ways to express yourself unlike most introverts who stay quiet and to themselves most times.”

    There is a big misunderstanding in our culture that introvert = shy. There are actually shy extroverts – those who enjoy the large crowds and loud parties, but who are hesitant in new situations or with new people. There are many introverts who are good at public speaking and teaching, what might be seen as “outgoing” traits. Shyness can hold someone back from living to their potential. Being an introvert is not a pathology; it is a gift!

  12. The implication seems to be that being an introvert is the mark of a great leader, but if 40% of leaders are introverts that means 60% are extroverts. I don’t know why, but that made me giggle.

    Many good points here.

  13. I love this and agree! I really like “5. They embrace solitude.”
    After being in full time Ministry for the past 3 months one of the first things I’ve noticed is how sometimes it’s tough to just get away and spend time with God! Leaders who automatically can get away on their own are already a step ahead. If you’re a leader and you get away on your own, more times than not you’re going to be spending time with God, praying, planning or executing because if you’re a Pastor at heart you can’t turn it off! So being alone means more time with God and doing this we need to do to grow daily!

  14. I’m not sure there is a correlation. Many of those attributes are decisions you can choose to make because of how they make others feel. I have known many introverts who can’t a make a decision, who disagree and don’t speak up; making for a long drawn out process. I guess my point is that I think leadership is about approaching challenges and people in a way that fits best for those situations. Not about whether you are soft spoken or not; how you are wired from birth. You can be an extrovert and learn or develop into a great leader.

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