I had a private exchange on Twitter a few days ago with Carol Roth in which I mentioned to her that I’m a “political junkie.” I minored in poli sci during my undergrad years, absolutely love political conversation, and the few moments each day I spend watching TV are generally spent watching political news shows.
As I shared this with Carol I remembered a dream I had many years ago – to “grow up” to be a Senator. But as much as it was a dream, I knew I would never pursue it.
Why? I’m an introvert, and the thought of campaigning – which is essentially intense networking – for days on end and months on end was simply overwhelming. So, I put that dream aside without much thought and went into the business world instead.
Which led me to ponder, “Did I subconsciously let my introversion disempower my dream? And do extroverts have an advantage in politics because of the campaign system?”
The work of politics vs. the campaign to get there
The truth is, the idea of being a Senator was incredibly appealing to me. In my admittedly romantic mind, politics is about dedication to a higher purpose, devoting your work to making the world a better place, and negotiating win-win agreements that move the country forward. It’s all about the ideas – developing them, creating coalitions around them, and then bringing them to life; idyllic work for an introvert!
I wanted to “grow up” to do this and I knew in my heart I could be brilliant at it. But I also knew that what it would take to get there – the campaigning – would take me completely out of my comfort zone as an introvert. Now, I mention in my eBook, “The Introvert’s Guide to Success in Business and Leadership,” that it’s important to get out of our comfort zone in order to advance in business. But in the business world, it’s possible to create a manageable flow of times you’re in your comfort zone and times you’re outside it.
A campaign for political office is different. You are out of your comfort zone and immersed in the “outer world” of people in a very intense way for a lengthy period. Introverts get their energy from the inner world of ideas, so spending such intense periods of time out of that energy zone is immensely draining.
And while the debates that complete the campaign cycle are ideal environments for introverts to share their passion for their ideas, I believe in today’s political campaign cycle extroverts have an advantage because they are energized by the ongoing process of meeting people and networking. This innately natural comfort zone of the “world of people” makes it easier for them to connect with others day in and day out. You’ll note, journalists and commentators are noticing this and reporting on it.
So what does this mean for their ability to be effective leaders?
Here’s the rub. Just because someone is an effective or brilliant campaigner, doesn’t mean they’ll be an excellent leader. These are two very different competencies. As mentioned above, the work of a politician is entirely within the comfort zone of an introvert, and many introverts – Abraham Lincoln most notably – are thoroughly successful politicians and leaders.
Introverted leaders are highly effective when they focus their energy on their ideas and then share these ideas in small groups or one-on-one with others. Lincoln was famous for the line of people that would gather outside his office and meet with him one-on-one, in a way that was most comfortable for him. And the fact that he was energized by his ideas and his vision cannot be debated.
Which leads me to the most important question of this post: How can we create an election process that empowers us to evaluate a candidate’s leadership ability, their capacity to stand behind their ideas with conviction, and to determine their true philosophical mindset about the role of government in a way that levels the playing field between introverts and extroverts?
I cannot wait to hear your thoughts and ideas!
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Being an introvert is truly an advantage in business and leadership if you know how to leverage it, and if you remain true to yourself.
Photo is Washington DC, 1987 by PhillipC.