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 In my career, I’ve found that leadership is often associated with words like "charisma," "power," "outgoing," and "confident.” As a result, introverted and quiet changemakers may have difficulties with envisioning what their leadership looks like.

But core aspects of leadership, such as those described by transformational leadership researchers James MacGregor Burns, Bernard M. Bass, James Kouzes, and Barry Posner, and by Good to Great author Jim Collins, reflect ideas that are in total alignment with quiet changemakers, and you don't need to be in a position of authority or have a formal leadership role to practice these leadership characteristics.

Here are a few practices that introverts---whom I refer to as “quiet changemakers”---can adopt to strengthen their leadership:

Good leaders treat those around them as individuals

They learn the interests and preferences of their colleagues. They engage in two-way communication. Quiet changemakers can excel through our preference for one-on-one or small group communication. Through these individual interactions, we learn about our colleagues more deeply in a way that positively impacts our relationships.

Questions that lead to better leadership practice:

  • Do I know much about my colleagues outside of work?
  • What do my colleagues and I have in common? Difference?
  • Which parts of their jobs do my colleagues love/hate?
  • What skills do my colleagues have that they don’t have a chance to share in their jobs?
  • How do my colleagues work best?

Good leaders provide opportunities for others to demonstrate their thinking and knowledge

They provide space for intellectual discussion. They ask others to provide advice. They provide opportunities for people to show off their knowledge. Quiet changemakers can do well because of their enjoyment of conversation with just a few people on topics of shared interest. They can be good listeners and allow other people to spend more time talking. They can share work or ask for advise in ways that allow other people to shine in their areas of expertise.

Questions that lead to better leadership practice:

  • Who knows more than me in an area I’d like to improve in? What advice can I ask of them?
  • What projects am I working on that others may be interested in getting involved with?
  • Who would be interested in joining me about a discussion on ________?
  • Are there opportunities for my colleagues to lead mini-professional development lunches so that we can learn from each other?

Good leaders are good role models

They follow through on commitments. They have strong characters and are consistent in their beliefs. They offer to help for the good of the team. Quiet changemakers can practice this aspect of leadership by knowing their values and contributing to a positive overall environment.

Questions that lead to better leadership practice:

  • Does my current workload allow me to follow through on all commitments?
  • Do my values align with those of the organization?
  • Are my interactions with others generally positive, or do I focus on the negative or gossip too much?
  • Do I help others and provide others the opportunity to help me when times are tough?

Good leaders focus their energy on the big picture

They ensure that work aligns with the mission and values of the team. They help keep people focused on the end goal. Quiet changemakers naturally take time to reflect on their purpose and that of the organization.

Questions that lead to better leadership practice:

  • Do I understand how my work and that of my colleagues connects the purpose of the organization and can I communicate that to others?
  • Am I able to communicate how our work positively impacts society?
  • What aspect of my organization’s work really invigorates me?
  • Who in my network would also enjoy talking about the bigger picture of our organization’s work and/or the type of work I contribute to the movement?

Good leaders are both strong-willed and humble

They are driven to achieve a purpose, but aren’t interested in taking all the credit, or blaming others for failure. They are strong yet reflective. Quiet changemakers are naturally interested to reflection, enjoying time alone thinking. And as introverts often over-think past interactions, we may be at risk for over-blaming ourselves when things don’t work out, so we also need to gives ourselves a break once and a while.

  • Do I know what I want to achieve in my role?
  • Who else can I credit for my successes?
  • What have I learned from past failures and missteps, and how can I share that learning with others?
  • Am I spending time on my purpose? Or are my personal issues getting in the way of success?

Leadership as a concept or something to aspire to can be alienating to many. If you don't have job that involves supervising others or have natural skill as a charismatic public speaker, it can be hard to see yourself as a leader. But by practicing many of the qualities of leadership that align with being a quiet changemaker, leadership is accessible for the introverts among our movements, too.

Further reading:

About the Author: Trina Isakson is founder and principal thinker at 27 Shift and leads research and strategy projects that uncover innovations and challenge assumptions about how people contribute positively to society. She also teaches a variety of university courses on community development and nonprofit leadership and management, and is founder of the Quiet Changemaker Project.

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