Most people seem to agree – we need more leaders, and better, more effective leadership in this world.  The scale of our challenges seems bigger, the pace of change is faster, and the growing diversity of our workforce demands a type of leadership that may be different than what we’ve experienced and celebrated in the past.  In 2018 alone, organizations spent a whopping $166B on Leadership Development – that’s a huge investment in addressing the need for more leaders and better leadership.  But what if I told you there was a way to bring more leadership into your organization that didn’t cost a penny?  Interested?

Don’t get me wrong, we still believe strongly in the value of Leadership Development, it’s what we exist to do, and we believe leadership is a continuous journey of development and growth.  But I also believe that there is a significant untapped well of leadership that exists, right now, in our organizations… and all we need to do to begin to experience its benefits is to expand our ability to see it and release it.

In the US, there is a strong cultural norm about what a leader looks and acts like, as there is in every national culture… and in every organizational culture.  And then there is our stated definition of what it looks like to be a leader – which may be articulated in our mission, vision, or values, or even in a set of defined leadership competencies.  The opportunity lies in recognizing when the cultural norm is limiting our ability to see leadership that meets the stated values and competencies.  In most organizations, there are unrecognized leaders who believe passionately in your mission, behave in consistent alignment with your values, and demonstrate your stated leadership competencies effectively… who are not seen because they don’t match the unstated expectations or norms of leadership.

Over the coming months, we’ll be sharing some of those sources of leadership that you may be overlooking because they are outside of a cultural or organizational norm.  This month, we focus on introverted leaders:


The cultural norm in the US has traditionally elevated extroverted leadership – extroverted Presidents are generally judged as more effective, and we have valued “charisma” as an critical attribute for leaders.  Most organizations follow suit, although there are certainly exceptions.  These cultural biases impact our ability to see introverts as having the same potential to lead effectively.

But some studies have demonstrated that introverted leaders may be more effective with certain types of teams and organizations.  Organizational psychologist Adam Grant found that overall, there was very little difference in the effectiveness of the introverted leaders he studied and those who were more extraverted.  However, looking at different work environments appeared to reveal a difference.  In environments with proactive workers, introverted leaders were shown to be more effective.  In those cases, the leaders showed a greater ability to drawing on the talents of the workforce and to bring people together.  Grant has argued that this may mean that introverted leaders will be more needed in the future, as we work to create more empowered workforces capable of dealing with the complexity of modern life and business.

Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking,  also recognized that introverted leaders tend to be better listeners, so the ideas of others are more likely to be heard.  She found that many introverted leaders are drawn to leadership because of their passion for the mission or purpose of the work they are engaged in, while extraverted leaders may be drawn to leadership as a vehicle for expressing their extraverted style.  As a result, introverted leaders can often be very effective at aligning others in support of an organization’s mission, and their passion can inspire followership.

Are there untapped Introverted Leaders in your organization?

What leadership talent might you be missing out on because of this difference in behavioral style that may have no connection to those behaviors and competencies that are critical for effective leadership?  And what could be possible if that leadership were unleashed to help you solve your most difficult challenges and to realize your greatest aspirations?  Here are some important ways to get started:

  1. Clearly articulate what effective leadership looks like in your organization.  Identify your organization’s values, and describe them in clear behaviors that are readily recognizable.  Talk about those behaviors often – recognize when they happen, give feedback and re-direct when they don’t. 
  2. Take it a step further and describe the competencies expected of the formal leaders in your organization.  What skills must be demonstrated by those who are entrusted with the leadership of others?
  3. Use these behaviors as your metric – relentlessly.  Use them when evaluating performance.  Use them when deciding who is promoted. 
  4. Develop your ability to recognize your own biases and to challenge the potential for biased decision making.  Biases are part of being human – they are shaped by culture, rooted by our experiences, and the good news – they have been shown to be completely malleable with intention and attention.

At InnerWill, our commitment to developing leaders at all levels of our organization, and of the organizations we work with, is one way we work to ensure that leadership is ignited and can be recognized in everyone who demonstrates it.  Still, the selection of formal leaders in an organization is one of the most powerful ways we communicate our culture – through our actions, not our words.  Are your actions aligned to the words you use to describe your culture?


Sharon Amoss

Sharon Amoss

Sharon’s approach to leadership is centered on encouraging others to discover and connect with their most true, authentic selves. She is guided by personal core values of justice, compassion, and growth, and motivated by a vision of a better and wiser world where each of us are free to express and contribute our unique gifts. She seeks to build inclusive communities across all facets of her work and life.

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