As a society, we have been conditioned to believe that leadership is all about charisma and confidence. Of course, these are the leaders we see in the media; the ones that are great public speakers, the ones that know how to sell a vision on the spot.
Therefore, what I am about to say will seem rather counterintuitive – that charm and verbosity is not synonymous with being a good leader. It helps, of course, but it is far from being the only quality that makes one.
So if you believe that you think that you are too shy or introverted to become a leader – think again. Here is why I think you can be a different kind of leader.
Focus on strengths over weaknesses We all have flaws in our character. So what if you freeze in front of a large crowd or a camera – big deal! All this means is that the spotlight is not your natural habitat and that you would thrive in different conditions. You would not expect a polar bear to survive in the desert nor a fish to breathe on land and you are no exception.
The idea is that no leader is identical to another and you have to be aware of what your identity is. When you do that, the next step is to understand your team really well and figure out how they work best. That way, you are able to delegate tasks in a way that everyone is contributing effectively and you have more time to focus on developing your own strengths.
Find out if you are the polar bear or the fish and you will discover the environment where you and your team can flourish.
Actions speak louder than words. Words are loud, but actions echo. While you can catch someone’s attention by saying something of interest to them, it takes actual work and dedication to hold it long enough to be of any importance. The most iconic leaders in history have realised this: that to empower others to help them make a difference, they must show that they are willing to do the same them.
Take for example Nelson Mandela, who fought his entire life for equality in South Africa and continued to act against injustice after his imprisonment. He managed to bring peace to his country, and he did this by demonstrating peace even with those that mistreated him.
If you are someone that struggles to inspire with words, worry not. When people emulate leaders, they imitate their actions, not their words. You may be shy and nervous, but if you do what needs to be done, others will follow.
Listen to and understand others. Leadership is a conversation, not a lecture. What this means is that you have to be prepared to listen to your team as opposed to simply giving them instructions. While the latter implies that the spotlight to be on you, luckily only the opposite is true. It is not about keeping the spotlight for yourself, it is about giving each other the opportunity to have their views heard.
If you do that, not only will you understand the people you are leading better, but also they will have more trust in you.
Overcome your fear of taking charge As I have mentioned, leadership is much more than a loud voice. It is a series of actions and behaviours. So even when you have understood that fact, there will still be a set of fears hanging over your head. What if I fail? What if I let others down? Do I even deserve to be a leader?
This is where being in an organisation that supported you when you struggled to believe in yourself helped. My first interaction with AIESEC involved a then-VP of our local committee that introduced it as an organisation that ‘helps develop your leadership potential’.
After the recruitment session, I walked up to him and told him in confidence that I did not feel like I could belong here, and he reassured me by saying that he was once in my position. I tell this anecdote often because – now looking back as a member – AIESEC has completely transformed my perception of what I can become.
Which is why I would like to offer a challenge to anyone reading this that believes that their shyness will hold them back: to join AIESEC and find as many members that believed that they were too shy or different to take charge.