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Can a Leader Be an Introvert?

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Leaders, just like those they lead, may be introverts or extraverts. While calling upon teachers to become teacher leaders, it is just as important to recognize and understand one's own personality type.

Teacher-Leaders and Their Leaders As Introverts?
A 2007 issue of Educational Leadership was dedicated to teachers as leaders. Articles included perspectives, overcoming obstacles, different types of teacher leadership, asking the right questions, etc. Articles outlined responsibilities and the nature of teacher leadership. SEDL, previously called Southwest Educational Development Laboratory, currently defines teacher leadership, as viewed by teachers, as a "collaborative effort" from which professional growth and improved educational opportunities for children will stem. From the SEDL website:

Teachers typically define career satisfaction in terms of their ability to be of service to others and make a difference in the lives of their students (McLaughlin & Lee, 1988). Similarly, the leadership considerations of teachers are grounded in their desire to improve the quality of teaching and learning for all students. Studies have shown that teachers do not subscribe to traditional definitions of leadership as "higher" or "superior" positions within the organizational hierarchy (Devaney, 1987). Instead, teachers view leadership as a collaborative effort, a "banding together" with other teachers to promote professional development and growth and the improvement of educational services (Troen & Boles, 1992).

Teacher leadership is undoubtedly a vital aspect of 21st century learning environment. The role of the teacher leader adds to the dynamic complexities involved in the role of those who teach. Based upon the definitions and descriptions that exist, teacher leaders must be able to collaborate and to motivate the banding together of collective effort and energy toward improvement. Doesn't this, after all, apply to all educational leaders also?

Using the Myers-Briggs definitions, extraverts can be identified as described here:

I like getting my energy from active involvement in events and having a lot of different activities. I'm excited when I'm around people and I like to energize other people. I like moving into action and making things happen. I generally feel at home in the world. I often understand a problem better when I can talk out loud about it and hear what others have to say.

So it makes sense that an extravert might feel at home assuming the role of a leader. They will make quick, confident decisions. But, talkers are not necessarily smarter than those who are more quiet; the faster and more often they talk, the more capable they may appear. But, do they always have the right answers or even the right questions?

Introverts, on the other hand, exist within all groups in all professions as well. Some learn how to push beyond their tendencies, and others live within them. That does not mean someone who is an introvert cannot become a leader, however, if we consider a redefinition of the term.  Myers-Briggs personality type describes introversion as:

I like getting my energy from dealing with the ideas, pictures, memories, and reactions that are inside my head, in my inner world. I often prefer doing things alone or with one or two people I feel comfortable with. I take time to reflect so that I have a clear idea of what I'll be doing when I decide to act. Ideas are almost solid things for me. Sometimes I like the idea of something better than the real thing.

Although these are simplified descriptions taken from a comprehensive study of the topic, perhaps recognizing one's self or others can make one ask, "How can one who is oriented like this be a leader given its description?"  The answer lies within the teacher's, and the leader's view the role of leader.

Make Room For All Types of Leaders
Can a teacher leader be one who does not speak out in public, facilitate the committee, argue the point, make the presentations?  Can a teacher leader be one who values and operates within the vision for the school, sees clearly what the strengths and opportunities for improvement are, who has few but deep relationships with colleagues, and who works purposefully with students?

Even leaders who do speak out in public facilitate committees, argue points and make presentations can be introverts. Room can and should be made for both extraverts and introverts, as both bring real value. Susan Cain relates a study that revealed introverts were more effective than extraverts if leading employees who were proactive, initiative takers...why? because they listened well and were more receptive. But, with passive employees, extraverts were more effective. (Cain, p.57). She suggests that Rosa Parks was an example of an introverted leader.

Leaders, do not mistake an introvert as one without capacity to lead. Whether a superintendent looking at a pool of candidates for other leadership positions in the district, or principals looking for teacher leaders, or teachers considering teacher leadership, all need to pay attention. Create time and spaces for introverts to contribute and increase the number of opportunities for leadership and quiet leaders to emerge. We are living in complex times and schools are complex institutions.  Leadership is called for and building and district leadership cannot do this alone.  Teacher leaders and leadership at all levels of the organization is called for and recognized as essential in the 21st century model for schools. Encourage teacher leadership, but be sure to recognize not all teacher leaders will be the joiners or the do-ers, but may have important thinking to contribute.  Among the leaders, understand each other, those who are extraverts and those who are introverts.  Make room for everyone.

Note:   According to Merriam-Webster.com "extravert" is a varient of "extrovert." The choice of the spelling of "extravert" was made based on the Myers-Briggs use of the term "extraversion."

Resources:

Cain, S. (2012). Quiet:  The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking. New York:  Crown Publishers

Devaney, K. (1987). The lead teacher: Ways to begin. New York: Carnegie Forum on Education and the Economy.

McLaughlin, M. W., & Mei-ling Yee, S. (1988). Whose culture is it anyway? In A. Lieberman (Ed.), Building a professional culture in schools. New York: Teachers College Press.

Troen, V., & Boles, K. (1992, April). Leadership from the classroom: Women teachers as a key to school reform. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Education Research Association, San Francisco, CA.

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The opinions expressed in Leadership 360 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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