Let me preface by saying this is part of an assignment for a leadership theory course I’m taking over the summer. However, I still think is useful for other aspiring leaders like myself. I’m very introverted and have been since I was a child. I don’t like talking to people I don’t know. I don’t like being in large crowds of people. I am greatly annoyed by people who constantly talk. And the chaotic sound of dozens of conversations taking place simultaneously, like those in networking events, pierces my ear drums like needles. Extraversion on the other hand is highly common among great leaders. It tends to make them more charismatic and be better communicators.
What are the benefits of an introverted leader then? We listen instead of talk. Those who are more reserved may not talk as much as an extrovert with the gift of gab, but when we talk people listen. We take the time to make logic-derived, evidence-based decisions while also listening to those around us who may have greater expertise in some areas. And we are generally more organized and detail-oriented, key factors in decision making. Because we talk less and people listen when we do talk, I believe that we can attain the charisma of extraverts, if we say the right things and back that up with action. While we may not constantly be running our mouth, we can become good verbal communicators and orators with practice, and because we are generally more contemplative, we will choose our words carefully, like a wordsmith, to ensure the message of our spoken word is conveyed with maximum effectiveness.
After two weeks of site visits visiting leaders all around Washington DC, including FBI Director Comey, the Chiefs of Staff for both VA Senators, Michael Powell, a Navy SEAL Captain, the leader of the NAACP Washington Office (AMEN), and leaders of numerous non-profits, what you will read below are my own interpretations of the principles that are important when in a leadership position. Because I had a multitude of different life/work experience before transferring to W&M in 2013, my leadership principles are mostly based on those experiences. However, I have integrated things learned in psychology, business, and this leadership theory into these core principles that will guide my decision making during leadership experiences:
- Maintain confidence and tranquility
When one is in a leadership position, he/she spends most of their time making decisions about work, which others actually do. A leader’s role as a decision maker is critical as the group will rise, survive, or die by your decisions. Therefore, it is of vital importance to maintain your confidence so that those around you also have confidence in your decision. It’s also important to maintain confidence so that you yourself do not allow baseless doubt to enter into your decisions, causing you to alternate strategies or objectives, which also causes confusion to those who follow you. Tranquility is equally as important as confidence because remaining calm prevents emotion, or non-evidence-based influences, from entering your decision making. Decisions made when one if trying to appease others, fearful, upset, etc. are more likely to have a negative result.
- Create a culture of excellence
People actually learn more about an organization and standards from the culture of a workplace/organization than mission statements and orientation manuals. A culture is how the people in a team/org behave, whereas the other things are just printed words that sound good. As a leader, you must instill into the culture the quality of work and level of standards that you want to achieve. As a leader, I would terminate any person under my leadership who was not performing their job adequately either in terms of competence or efficiency. Substandard results of any kind would be unacceptable. To balance out this drive for high standards, I would make sure my team was happy via things like schedule flexibility, compensation, and a balanced workload.
- Follow the US Army values: Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selflessness, Courage, Honor, & Integrity
For me, loyalty, duty, respect, and integrity are all components of honor, and courage is part of being selfless. Thus, I would place the values of honor and altruism at the top of my priority list when considering any decision. Here are a few examples: An honorable soldier is loyal to his comrades, superiors, and country. An honorable leader should be loyal to his/her followers, stakeholders, and clients. An honorable soldier respects the authority of his superiors and respects his comrades. An honorable leader should respect the opinions and emotions of his followers. A selfless officer does not blindly give orders to subordinates. He considers the effect of his decisions on all others before himself. A selfless leader should make decisions that best affect the team and the team’s objectives. The principles of honor and selflessness are lacking everywhere in today’s society. I believe that a leader who abides by them will succeed just by having these as his/her guiding principles.
- Lead from the front, not the rear
It’s important that followers see their leader lead by example. As a follower, why would you follow the instruction of someone who tells you to work late when he/she goes home at 2pm on Friday? A leader should never ask anything of a follower that he would not do himself or ask a follower to maintain a standard that the leader does not maintain himself. When followers see their leader working hard, maintaining high standards, and taking action, they too will take action and work hard. It’s also important for followers to see their leader around the organization, especially in large organizations because this gives the psychological perception that the leader is just like one of his workers.
- Be supportive & develop relationships with followers
I believe it’s very important for a leader to be there to support the team. This could mean simply going around and checking on how the followers are doing or something more involved where you work with them on a regular basis to accomplish tasks or develop their skills. Being a good listener is a major component of being supportive because you can’t be supportive of someone if you’re the one constantly talking. Developing more of a personal relationship with followers will make it easier for them to suggest new ideas, give valuable feedback, and create a positive working environment. I believe developing that additional layer of a relationship with a follower also makes them more loyal to you and more likely to work hard to accomplish the team’s objectives.
- Be a facilitator AKA solution finder
As a leader you will always be working in group/team environments. You have your allegiance to the team/organization’s objective and to whatever form your followers come in whether that be a small team, large team, or entire organization. Part of your allegiance to your team should always include filling the role of being a facilitator – someone who brings people to work together, get along, and develop solutions. Making people work together builds relationships amongst them and can even help people who are not compatible on a personality level work together. When trying to find a solution to a problem, generally a larger group of people is going to be better than an individual because of the variety of experience, expertise, and knowledge that each person brings. An example of purposeful facilitation by a leader might be making the marketing department and the R&D team work together on some project in person so they build relationships with each other and ideally help each respective area operate a little more efficiently because R&D will be better in touch with what customers want and marketing will be better in touch with the development of new products.
- Don’t be driven by just the numbers
In the W&M business school, there are four majors: finance (cash flow), accounting (organizing & following protocol), marketing (psych & selling strategy), and process management and (strategic) consulting. My major, PMC, is really analytics – breaking down some situation or data, understanding it, and then developing/executing a strategy to do X in the best way possible with this developed knowledge and plan. The power of information is driving organizations, large and small, today, but as a leader I believe that it’s important that we remain grounded and not get caught up in the numbers. I don’t want to ever be in a position where I forget that there are real human beings with lives and families behind some statistic or report.
- Have a long-term vision: Make decisions to achieve the long-term while satisfying the short-term
Everywhere you look in life there is a balance. A balance of light and dark, good and bad, quantum physics and relative physics, matter and anti-matter, and short-term benefits vs long-term benefits. As a leader, I believe you must strike this balance between satisfying short-term needs while never straying from your long-term objective. Followers are likely only going to concern themselves with the short-term execution of your decisions, and as a facilitator you should make sure things are getting done in the short-term. However, you must be the one responsible for leading your team to that light at the end of the tunnel. Communicating this vision in a clear, effective way so that others understand the big picture and remain loyal to you and your decisions is also of great importance.