By Ryan Oh
Leaders are often expected to be sociable individuals whose leadership work is publicly noticed for the impact they have on the community in which they are a part. This is one of the most common myths of leadership. I’m not the talkative type and may come off as shy, and yet, there never came a time when I questioned my ability to be a good leader. At the end of the day, I know what I’m doing and I get the job done, and I’d like to think I do a pretty good job (I say this in the most humble tone…seriously!). As David Rock, author of Quiet Leadership says, “help people think better, don’t tell them what to do.”
Sure, presence is an important element of being a well-respected leader. Leaders with presence exude confidence, are passionate about their beliefs, aggressively speak out, and make bold decisions. But Frances Kahnweiler, author of the book The Introverted Leader: Building on Your Quiet Strength introduces the idea of an “introverted leader.” This sort of leader does everything mentioned above but processes information internally. This kind of leader considers what others have to say, reflect, and then responds. Introverted leaders can be eloquent, aggressive and bold just like the loud, extroverted leaders. The key is to engage the audience, and we – I’m talking to all you introverted leaders out there – each have our own unique charms to do just that.
When I interviewed a couple of U of T students, one mentioned the idea of a quiet leader that doesn’t talk outright but acts as more of a supportive type. Another student felt that the ability to successfully assign tasks and ensure that responsibilities are completed does not require that one be gregarious.
I’d also like to emphasize that a leader does not have to take centre stage and be recognized for the group’s work. A lot of the big, bold stuff can happen behind the scenes. Take, for example, the various motions that are passed in the Governing Council meetings. They sculpt what our institution is today. Our leaders, however, make those decisions without being noticed by the several thousands of UofT students. This lack of recognition does not make anyone less a leader.
I find that introverted leaders perform just as well as their extroverted fellows. While they conduct themselves calmly, they are capable of leading with great enthusiasm and confidence. So let’s defuse any misconceptions that leaders need to be loud and out there. The quiet types, like you and I – and that quiet student we all know who always seems to be able to motivate people to do great things without seeming to say or do much – can be effective leaders too!
Ryan is in his third year of studies in Biology & Physiology. He is one of three vice-presidents for the New College Student Council and manages the monthly student publication The Window. He also serves as one of the Program Assistants for the Leadership Development Program at the U of T Office of Student Life.