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Do you have a favorite superhero? My superhero is Batman because I can relate to him. His personal experience with grief (his parents were murdered) motivates him to make his world a better place, he is quiet, he thinks more than he talks, he is always inventing stuff even if it doesn’t work out, he has a Sick cave with large screens, he is clever but listens to other people, he is empathetic and has a conscience, he does not get lost in success, and he has really cool abs. I think Batman is an Introvert, with or without the abs.
Early in my leadership career, I bought into the idea that “real leaders” are take charge, get-things-done, Superman type leaders. I believed that I needed to change my personality if I wanted to be an effective leader. Like a true Introvert, I read everything I could get my hands on and made some really good plans to change myself. After several frustrating years I hung up my Batbelt and concluded that leadership was not for me.
Too bad I didn’t take the Serenity prayer seriously.
Fast forward to today and I am again in leadership as a Manager. Sometimes the old messages are difficult to silence about the “ideal” leader, but I had a realization that made a shift in my thinking. All my life I have either been drawn to leadership, or leadership has been drawn to me… precisely because of who I am! It is only recently that I have more peace being myself, a Quiet Leader and I understand how my Introvert strengths suit the leadership roles I have taken on.
I thought about why I have such a Hate-on for Superman (no, I really don’t hate him… saying it this way feels like I will have more street cred. Word). Superman seems to be able to do it all and he is impervious to almost any attacks. Think about it, who can deflect a bullet with their abs? Come on, he must use an Ab Roller for those abs?!? Nope… sorry to burst your bubble, he was born that way. He’s not human and because of our yellow Sun, he gets a superbody and superpowers (He’s from another planet, Krypton. In my mind that =Alien). Maybe there’s a planet out there for me where we can just breathe in the air and get superstrong eating Doritos and watching TV? It’s called Planet Imagination.
Leadership culture is has real life versions of the Superman leader who we consciously or unconsciously measure ourselves (or our leaders) against. We admire the leader who is the get-things-done-and-blast-through-it type of leader. Some examples of this kind of Leader are Oprah, Steve Jobs, Mark Cuban, or Richard Branson. Websters gets in on the fun and defines a Leader as “a person who directs a military force or unit, a person who has commanding authority or influence, the first or principal performer of a group.”
Notice that the Websters’ definition describes the functions of a leader, and not the personality or the temperament of a leader. We know that leaders do certain things, but how they get things done can change, depending on their personality and their unique approach.
Quiet leaders can get things done too, they just do it differently than more extroverted types. A few examples of Quiet Leaders are JK Rowling, Bill Gates, Einstein, Ghandi, Vincent Van Gough. You can find more Bio’s of Introverted leaders in this article “16 Outrageously Successful Introverts” by Laura Schocker.
I think it is Superman’s born-to-be-a-leader invulnerability that makes him seem unreal. I may be biased, but I think it may be easier for an introvert to be vulnerable because we are very aware of our shortcomings. That said, regardless of temperament vulnerability is what defines the best leaders. For my money, Batman still tops my list!
“I realized a while ago that all my life I have either been drawn to leadership, or leadership has been drawn to me… because of who I am!”
As a Quiet Leader, I have some practices in my Batbelt that help me lead genuinely, to lead in a way that fits me and my temperament:
- Take time to recharge
- I begin my day in quiet. I need my alone time, so I get up well before the Krypton Sun and take time to write, think and drink coffee. I write things down and give myself time to think about things at work, things at home and everything else that is important.
2. Be serious but then know when to let it go
- As a Quiet leader, I need to remind myself to learn from my mistakes, but don’t take it too seriously. Sometimes we Introverts are very, very hard on ourselves. I am learning that being too serious about my mistakes can cause me to ignore my successes and my strengths. Also, the emotional impact of a mistake can seem to multiply the mistake 10 fold. For me, it helps to take away one or two things and then leave it alone. Taking a risk and being vulnerable releases most of the emotional steam that I sometimes carry.
- No, Quiet Leaders don’t sit around listening to the sound of the wind or imagining one hand clapping. We ask a lot of questions and we listen because that is how we learn and how we show respect for people in our teams. Interestingly, Quiet Leaders get things done not by being alone, but by working with people. To me, listening to others is about having respect for their opinions, their experience and their questions. My team knows more than I do about the day to day direct client work. They have the expertise and I am a better leader when I listen to them.
4. Respect the emotional demands that change can put on people
- From personal experience, I understand that progress can be slow and that personal change can be even slower. If you need some evidence of this, read the Serenity Prayer. I have found that any change that we make (along with any internal conflicts about that change) can create an added layer to the change. I think of it as an emotional undercurrent, and researchers call it Emotional Labour. Some of us may become energized by change while others may feel drained by change and need time to adjust.
5. Value Connection
- I respect that some people like the larger group events. They are not my thing, but I have learned navigate the ant-hill like events by having side conversations away from the group and escaping into the bathroom when I need space. I ask people about things that really matter to them like their family, why they chose this line of work, what they like about their jobs and how they get through difficult situations in their lives.
6. Get some gadgets
- Like Batman, I like gadgets. That is why we have caves. What else do I need to say?
Truth is, I don’t really think that Superman is a bad leader. But the idea of a Superleader is not helpful. Leaders are people who know themselves, who are willing to take on the demands of leadership and who lead authentically. So go ahead, use your powers and lead from wherever you are at. Accept yourself, change what you can and do it with whatever style you can muster. Wear a cape, tights optional. I like that.
I am curious, what are your daily practices? Share them by leaving a comment in the section below.
Keep it real
Quiet Leader links
Check other articles in the series on Quiet Leadership here: the Quiet Leadership Manifesto, The Imposter Syndrome, The Top Ten Reasons Listening is Better than Talking, Seat Work (boring title, but amazing post… so says my Publicist/Daughter), How being a Quiet Leader almost became a DSM diagnosis and The Silent Superpower.