nurtuting quiet leaders

Nurturing Quiet Leaders

Heidi Kasevich Leadership Programs, Pedagogy Of Leadership®

Heidi Kasevich, PhD, gcLi Scholar ‘15, Director of Quiet Education, Quiet Revolution

Surrounded as we are by alpha, bold, and gregarious leaders, it is all too easy to impose a one-size-fits-all ideal on today’s students. Yet we risk alienating half of our student body—and possibly losing out on enormous benefits to social good—if we embrace a narrow view of what it means to be a successful leader in our schools.

Temperament-inclusive leadership education begins with a broad definition of leadership itself. Presence, passion, and compassion form the triumvirate of Quiet School’s definition of 21st century leadership. Per social psychologist and author Amy Cuddy, presence involves “the ability to comfortably express our true thoughts, feelings, and values.” [1] With passion, we invite students to discover what they really love to do, or as author Daniel Pink declares, “hitch their desires to a cause greater than themselves.” [2] Compassionate leaders reach out to others, asking for and giving guidance, infusing others with a sense of purpose so that the team can effect positive change.

Once leadership has been presented in this way, involving what has been called the more “expansive ‘power to’” rather than the “oppressive ‘power over’,” [3]  the time is ripe for identity exploration and an inside-out, strengths-based approach. With particular attention paid to introversion and extroversion, the north and south of temperament, students gain critical self-knowledge about their social and communication styles as well their problem-solving and conflict-management styles. As Susan Cain, co-founder of Quiet Revolution, affirms in her bestseller Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, introversion/extroversion fundamentally has to do with our biogenetic sensitivity to stimulation: introverts feel most alive, happy, and productive in quiet, minimally stimulating environments, and extroverts prefer more stimulation to reach their optimal zone. [4] 

When students discover that they fall on the introverted side of the spectrum, they all too often lose confidence in their ability to lead. With this in mind, it is critical to invite quiet adult leaders in school communities to “declare themselves” and to expose students to a wide array of role models, from Bill Gates to J.K. Rowling to Rosa Parks. What do these successful leaders have in common? Firstly, introverts tend to think before they speak. They are likely to be contemplative, mild-mannered, and cautious decision-makers. As psychologist Adam Grant states, taking time to carefully weigh options and not rushing a decision can benefit all members of a team and lead to better, more creative outcomes. [5] Secondly, introverts tend to be excellent problem-solvers and deep thinkers. They have incredible abilities of focus and concentration, coupled with a desire to master complicated tasks through hours of deliberate practice. According to business consultant and author Jim Collins, such unassuming, humble individuals become great leaders precisely because they possess authentic conviction for a particular mission; they are not in it for personal fame or glory. Finally, introverts tend to be really good listeners, which builds trust and enables leaders to actualize the potential of team members. Deep listening is a valuable leadership skill that can produce remarkable outcomes with proactive team members.

As we recognize and cultivate these strengths, we must also be attentive to teaching our quieter students how to step outside of their comfort zones and do seemingly risky or unnatural things, such as giving speeches, networking at large social gatherings, or even showing enthusiasm. As scholar Brian Little affirms, such “acting out of character” in the service of “professionalism or love” is a noble enterprise. The trick is to be self-aware enough to know one’s “free-trait” limits: It is advisable to take frequent “restorative niches” in the aftermath of stretching oneself as an introverted leader.

Nurturing quiet leaders, and in so doing, disrupting the extrovert ideal, is not intended to replace one leadership ideal with another. The ultimate goal is to respect diversity in leadership styles and inspire all of our students to embrace the trio of presence, passion, and compassion.


  1. Amy Cuddy, Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges (Little, Brown and Company, 2015).
  2. Daniel Pink, Drive: The Surprising Truth about what Motivates Us (Riverhead Books, 2011).
  3. Gloria Feldt, “February 29th’s Forgotten Place in the History of Women in Leadership,” Fast Company, Feb. 29, 2016
  4. Susan Cain, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (Broadway Books, 2013).
  5. Susan Krauss Whitbourne, “Why Introverts Can be Great Leaders,” Psychology Today, Nov. 8, 2011.

 


Heidi Kasevich is the Director of Quiet Education at Quiet Revolution. Here she works alongside Quiet author Susan Cain to unlock the power of introverts and lead a mission-driven organization. After attending the summer leadership lab in 2012, she returned as a gcLi Scholar in 2015. Prior to this work, Dr. Kasevich taught at Nightingale-Bamford in New York, and earned a doctorate in French Studies and Modern European History from New York University.