Empowering Introverted Leaders

Ellen Ripley, the most BA Introvert to ever Introvert

Ellen Ripley, the most BA Introvert to ever Introvert


Empowering Introverted Leaders

IF ELLEN RIPLEY doesn’t come to mind as the most prolific called-to-action introverted leader of all time, then you need to rewatch the original Alien like, yesterday. I have a certain fascination with Sigourney Weaver — don’t ask why, it’s a long weird story — and this role in particular comes to mind every time the topic of introverts vs. extroverts arises. In the film, Ellen Ripley (or just Ripley, because she’s that flippin’ cool) was set up as a background character. Only when everyone lost their minds did Ripley step up into a leadership role and transformed into the hero everyone needed. She was calm and collected in stressful situations. She listened intently, processed internally, and often made quick decisions without hesitation. She’s also incredibly trustworthy because she actually cares. She was a total badass without having to explain her badassery out loud. 12-star protagonist in my opinion.

A common theme in leadership, which has been ruminated a million times over, is that the most outgoing, outspoken, seemingly extroverted people have all the capacity to be the best leaders. Business schools capitalize on it in their teachings and a lot of introvert empowerment seems to fall through the cracks. Businesses tend to assume the quiet meeting member isn’t someone of value, but rather a behind-the-scenes person. Having an ostentatious personality is praised and often associated with the highest of performance.

Susan Cain, the fairy godmother of tackling this issue, argues that modern (Western) culture undervalues the traits and capabilities of introverts. Her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking (also a Ted Talk) argues that our culture, over time, came to focus on personality instead of character, thus leading to "a colossal waste of talent, energy, and happiness." Essentially, we’ve grown to assume that introverts are inferior. The basis of her arguments, most notably, is that temperament is a core element of human identity. She references research in biology, psychology, neuroscience and evolution to demonstrate that introversion is both common and normal. She also mentions that some of the most notorious leaders and artists possessed this characteristic.  

I recently finished reading Shoe Dog, a memoir written by the creator of Nike, Phil Knight. I resonated with this book due to Phil’s honesty about his introverted tendencies showing up by way of daily long runs. For Knight, gaining clarity and understanding for his (at the time) non-flourishing shoe company meant planning and plotting during times of a much-need solitary six mile run. He often mentions the frustrations on behalf of his business partners and employees, as his communication wasn’t loud and boisterous — instead it was calm, collected, and often processed internally, usually during a run. Obviously, Phil Knight went on to build an empire. What we don’t see is that Nike was founded by an introverted leader with a passion for doing business his way — quietly — and with great success.

There are endless examples of distinguished leaders who exemplify traits of an introvert and yet, as a society, we continue to ostracize the quiet and reserved for the same old reason: we don’t fully understand the potential of their character.

I have personally been known to display introverted tendencies, yet most people assume I’m an extrovert. The truth is, I’m a lot of both. An ambivert, if you will. The beauty of being both gives me a specialized insight into the empowering leaders of all types. What I have found, however, is that empowering introverts in particular seems to be more of a struggle. Here are three simple ways in which to support introverts becoming leaders:

  1. One-on-One Sessions

    A former coworker I had used to DREAD our Monday morning meetings because it was a gross display of outspoken group members taking the time to public speak - something my less outspoken coworker felt the need to do. She often waited until after the meeting to speak to me or someone else about project ideas that were often times much more efficient than what was proposed. A simple one-on-one option could have saved her, and us, a lot of productivity time waster.

  2. Environment Assessment

    Open work spaces are very sexy recently due to the idea that when you put a bunch of people in the same room without dividers, the collaboration will just FLOW out them simply by proximity. Seems logical, right? Can you imagine being someone who is more reserved and more comfortable and MORE PRODUCTIVE on their own trying to work in this environment? It’s not unrealistic to ask what an employee prefers ahead of time. Just because some people want privacy doesn’t mean they aren’t a team player or working on ways to lead the organization in the right direction.

  3. Open policy to be themselves

    Giving people the opportunity and freedom to be themselves seems pretty abstract, but it’s incredibly powerful when you really put this process front of mind. Allowing people to present ideas in a way that’s comfortable for them ensures you care about what they have to say and how they want (need) to say it.

Empowering introverted leaders is beneficial to the entire organization in terms of productivity and advancement against competitors, as described in research done around successful CEOs. So why do we still, after all of this research data and confirmation of benefits of introverted leaders, have a tendency to promote the extroverted leader? The answer, in my opinion, is an incomplete understanding of how introverts work and where their leadership shines. Assessments like Emotional Intelligence (EQ), Myers-Briggs, or Insights Discovery are a great place to start with your team or group. Understanding each person’s character and personalities is a step in the right direction of listening to and empowering those around you - extroverted, introverted, or those of us who gladly accept that we are both…the elusive ambiverts.

Interested in learning more about personality types on your team? Contact me to connect with a facilitator who can enhance your next meeting with an assessment tool.

How Rural Retreats Cultivate Creativity

Originally published as part of graduate research at MSU-Mankato, 2019

Effects of Urbanization: How Rural Retreats Cultivate Creativity


Imagine for a moment the typical corporate boardroom. It is designed to be as efficient and functional as possible. Everything is identical in shape, size, color, and space; the cohesion is undeniably succinct from the mesh-backed black chairs to the monochrome telephone to the spacing of the matte silver door handles. It comes as no surprise, then, that consistent meetings within a room of this design are unlikely to be a breeding ground for “aha!” moments. This analysis will serve as an argument for the importance of routinely exposing professional groups to a natural environment in order to promote creative thinking.

            On the surface, living and working in a bustling urban city promotes attractive benefits of engaging its community members in advancements of arts, entertainment, business opportunities, etc. More and more people around the world are gravitating toward urban environments, creating an epidemic of smaller, more densely populated urban cities where open spaces once occupied. According to UN, an additional 2.5 billion people are predicted to live in urban areas by 2050 (UN News, 2014). As the growth of smaller urban cities continues to rise, so does the lack of access to green space. This is detrimental for a myriad of reasons, one vastly important issue being the constant exposure to stimuli with little to no reprieve. Additionally, in any given workplace environment within the confines of the urban landscape, one is unlikely to encounter a natural environment for days—or even weeks—at a time due to overwhelmingly rigid schedules and seemingly endless construction.

The traditional 9 to 5 lifestyle is quite simply not conducive to spending quality time outdoors. With the status quo being a house-to-work-and-back-again schedule, when do people have the opportunity to slow down? When do they find the time to let their brains take in an hour of solitude and quiet? Where do they go to escape the noise and lights of the city?

The notion that that the brain suffers dramatic neural effects due to over stimuli is nothing new, whereas according to psychologist Donald Hebb it is “reported that rats allowed to run free in his home performed better on problem-solving tasks than rats kept in standard laboratory cages” (Lambert, Nelson, Jovanovic, Cerdá, 2014). This coincides with Charles Darwin’s discovery that domesticated rabbit’s contained smaller brains than their wild counterparts (Lambert, et al., 2014). These findings suggest a strong link to the development and function of the brain when habitually exposed to natural elements. The importance of exposure to natural environments is clear – it cultivates clarity, decision-making, and the opportunity to think creatively.

In a world of increasing technology and distraction, businesses are starved for both employee retention and team development. Without proper time outside of office walls, teams are likely to fall into a pattern of what Josef Pieper, German philosopher, referred to as ‘total work.’ David Levy alludes to Pieper’s theories in his article No time to think: Reflections on information technology and contemplative scholarship, 2007. In reference to Pieper’s theories, Levy recounts Pieper’s claim that “The world of work is becoming our entire world, it threatens to engulf us completely, and the demands of the world of work become greater and greater, till at last they a make a ‘total’ claim upon the whole of human nature” (Levy, 2007, p.240).

            This workplace-focused trajectory threatens our ability to utilize leisure to our creative advantage. Increasingly, one of the biggest obstacles of our generation is burnout. In an op-ed written by Huffington Post Founder and CEO, Arianna Huffington, burnout is referred to as the “disease of our civilization.” According to Huffington, the American workplace refuses to divert from its current path to destructive environmental qualities and instead “glorifies an approach to measuring success that leads to burnout and a culture enraptured with technology to the point that tools meant to give us greater control of our lives have, instead, taken control of our lives” (Huffington, 2013). Burnout displays itself in many different forms ranging from exhaustion to irritability to the inability to continue in your current role due to disinterest. Depriving teams the opportunity to disconnect and gain clarity in a significantly less frenetic environment is harmful to the mental and physical health of everyone involved in the business. As creativity dwindles and burnout grows, employers are likely to find they cannot keep their teams focused enough to thrive in competitive markets.

To put it simply, teams can benefit greatly from time away from their daily interactive environments. A rural retreat in an area like Northern Minnesota offers a company the ability to get employees out of the office and into a fresh environment, encouraging imaginative thinking and the opportunity to disconnect from their over-stimulated lifestyles. A meeting set in a Northwoods environment overlooking a quiet, crystal clear lake can transform the mind and body to slow down and think differently. Without the distraction of busy streets, bright lights, monochromatic office walls and stifling agendas, the mind is free to wander in new, imaginative directions.

To experience a rural retreat, contact me or check out The Leadership Center at Sugar Lake Lodge for more information.


More than half of world's population now living in urban areas, UN survey finds | UN News. (2014, July 10). Retrieved from https://news.un.org/en/story/2014/07/472752-more-half-worlds-population-now-living-urban-areas-un-survey-finds


Brains in the city: Neurobiological effects of urbanization | Neuroscience & Behavioral Reviews. (2014, October 8). Kelly G Lambert, Randy J Nelson, Tanja Jovanovic, Magdalena Cerdá. Retrieved from d2l.


No time to think: Reflections on information technology and contemplative scholarship | Ethics and Information Technology. (2007). David M Levy. Retrieved from d2l.


Burnout: The Disease of Our Civilization | Huffingtonpost.com. (2013, October 21). Huffington, A. Retrieved from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/arianna-huffington/burnout-third-metric_b_3792354.html