Pastors and leaders come in all shapes, sizes, and personality types. I definitely fall into the introverted category (here’s a great article for inward pastors entitled 7 Ways to Thrive As an Introverted Pastor by Ron Edmondson). I was a shy kid and I kept pretty quiet in college too. I am one of those strange people who actually likes to read and study. But budding leaders are usually pushed out of their comfort zones into a more outgoing demeanor. For the most part, this is a positive progression but at times, it can be taxing on the spirit of an introvert. Here are five tips that have helped me overcome the weaknesses and maximize the strengths of my introverted leadership style.
1. Resist the pressure to be something that you’re not. There’s a lot of pressure on pastors and leaders of all kinds to be dynamic. However, it’s important to remember that outgoing, highly extroverted leaders are not necessarily dynamic by virtue of their personality alone. In fact, those personality types come with their own set of struggles and weaknesses. Early on in ministry, I found myself trying to imitate leaders whose personalities were miles apart from mine. Before long I was miserable and felt like a complete failure. Did I need to mature and address a few character flaws? Yes. Did my entire personality need to be discarded before God could use me? Certainly not. In the Bible, you will find various leaders who had very different temperaments and yet they were all mightily used of God. And yes, many of them were introverts.
2. Resist the temptation to retreat within when under pressure. I would be lying if I told you that I had this little piece of advice down pat. I don’t. It’s normal for us introverts to pull away and become very inward when we are hurting, stressed, attacked, or feeling pressured. Grandma always said, “Isolation is the Devil’s playground.” She was right.
3. Surround yourself with people who understand and value you and your personality. Because it’s my default setting to retreat inwardly at unhealthy moments I strive to surround myself with people who understand my personality and respond accordingly. I thank God for Rachel (my wife) who helps keep me balanced and pulls me back into the land of the living. Cultivate relationships with friends and family that sustain you. Keep people close who will lovingly remind you to set the book down and leave the office from time to time. People who truly love and care about you will walk the healthy line between respecting your temperament and helping you adjust the flaws.
4. Know your personality limitations. I purposely didn’t call them weaknesses because not all limitations are weaknesses. Every leader should have a good measure of self-awareness. If understanding the personalities of others is important; understanding what makes you tick is paramount. For introverts, we can’t maintain the steady social schedules that our highly extroverted friends can. Find a balance that is healthy for you and learn your limits. Just as importantly, learn when to break out of your personality and be what is needed for the moment. For example, there are times when even the quietest individual must speak up, speak out, and speak long.
5. Know your personality strengths. We introverts do have strengths that we should use and we should use them often. Because our minds never quite seem to shut down we can be very thoughtful and considerate. We have a greater capacity for compassion than most, and we make good listeners when needed. We’re less likely to say something foolish in the heat of the moment. Our love for study and meditation makes the fundamental spiritual disciplines of prayer and Bible reading a natural part of our daily routines. We speak with conviction and sincerity. When we are loud, forceful, energetic, or angry it gets people’s attention because it is never contrived or overblown.