The Quiet Leader

min read

There are a number of opportunities for introverted individuals to engage and grow as leaders.

photo of three people in black business suits and white shirts having a conversation at a table
Credit: fizkes / © 2019

"Seek first to understand, then to be understood." These are the storied words of author Steven Covey, shared in the book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Over the last several months, I have been exploring leadership from the unique perspective of the introverted/quiet leader. After seeking input from various IT leaders, ranging from individual contributors to assistant vice presidents, Covey's words took on added significance.

How are quiet leaders perceived in the workplace? How do they approach their work? What skills does an introverted person need to have to successfully transition to a leadership role? These are all questions that are regularly discussed during EDUCAUSE Institute programs.

After exploring these questions in depth with higher education IT leaders, I identified four opportunities to engage and grow as a quiet leader:

  1. Be yourself
    There is a saying that "the squeaky wheel gets the grease." In the workplace, this sometimes looks and feels like those who are the most vocal always receive the most attention and the greatest number of opportunities. While there are some benefits to staying top of mind, it's a myth that in order to be successful, one needs to consistently "make noise."

    It's important for any leader to understand how others work, but as a quiet leader, it is equally important for others to understand how you like to work and what helps you to be the most productive. In doing so, you create connections that are more personal and help others to feel as if they have been seen.

  2. Be a resource
    In the workplace, team projects provide countless opportunities for you to engage and share your expertise, even if you aren't the lead. These opportunities can help you expand your internal network and demonstrate your value in ways that may not have previously presented themselves. For the quiet leader, it's imperative to seek out and accept opportunities that challenge you, help you to grow, and allow you to connect with others on a deeper level.

  3. Focus on professional development
    Investing in yourself is critical to your trajectory as a leader and the overall success of your career. During one-one-one and group discussions, the IT leaders I interviewed shared that attending professional development programs provided meaningful interactions that helped to amplify the content learned. This has helped them build strong networks and develop meaningful professional relationships.

  4. Find a mentor
    Michael Duong, associate vice president in the department of Health Information Technology at the University of Central Florida, shared how important it is to find a mentor. "Identify a mentor to help provide guidance, perspective, and support early on," he said. "Having a mentor was instrumental for me and laid the groundwork for the leader I am today."

    When I asked Michael how to find a mentor, his response was simple. "Just ask," he said. I received the same response from most of the IT leaders I spoke with. Many of the leaders explained that there is a lack of outreach among those looking for guidance.

    Kathy Caprino, a leadership coach and senior contributor at Forbes, advises people who are looking for a mentor to "be someone who is actively building his/her career and is demonstrating that every day."1 Doing so provides potential mentors with insight into your interests and allows them to give you more focused assistance.

Building your own path that reflects who you are and what kind of leader you want to be is important to success. There's a delicate balance between staying true to yourself and meeting workplace expectations and institutional goals. If you believe it's possible to succeed, you will be positioned to excel. As Susan Cain wrote: "Everyone shines, given the right lighting."2


  1. Kathy Caprino, "How to Find a Great Mentor – First, Don't Ever Ask a Stranger," Forbes, September 21, 2014.
  2. Susan Cain, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking (New York: Broadway Books, 2013).

Shana Campbell is Manager of Professional Learning at EDUCAUSE.

© 2019 Shana Campbell. The text of this work is licensed under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 4.0 International License.