Not every leader has all of the best leadership qualities. I learned this as I, the president of a campus ministry, sat in the row directly in front of the speaker we’d been working months to bring to campus, and realized I didn’t want to introduce her. Not only that I didn’t want to introduce her, but that I was so cripplingly terrified of introducing her, I’d forgotten her name, the organization she represented, and the title of the book she’d be selling afterwards. I once again hated myself for being introverted; I loathed the fact that these tiny, everyday tasks seemed so impossible to me. I sat trembling in my seat, the silent “it’s time to start” noise that should have pushed me upwards and out of my seat instead just reminded me that this was why I should never be a leader.
Just because all leaders don’t have all of the leadership qualities, that doesn’t mean those with the less-popular leadership qualities have nothing to offer. I was a quiet leader. When I had to raise my voice in a large group setting I felt extremely uncomfortable and disrespectful. When I had to answer judgmental questions about the intention of our club, I felt attacked, and when I was in charge of leading weekly meetings I was exhausted. I had in my mind a picture of the type of leader I wanted to be: outgoing, cheerful, energetic, persuasive. And when I failed to be that leader, I labeled myself a failure. However, I’m realizing now that I had different qualities to offer when I led than my co-leaders had. We made a team, and I didn’t fully realize the power behind a team of people who all have different strengths. I saw my abilities as far less valuable than those of other leaders on campus. But sometimes a quiet leader can be a powerful leader — we’re seeing more and more people in our country in leadership positions who could benefit from taking some time to be quiet. Sometimes the background people work more efficiently, without being slowed down by the blinding spotlight and the public eye.
One of my first times holding a leadership position, I was a junior counselor for a camp my church used to attend. I was in seventh grade, and in charge of a group of girls a few years younger than me. I remember these same insecurities pelting my confidence back then, as I felt entirely too young to be in charge of anybody. But the moment that I remember most vividly was when it was time for me to lead devotionals for the girls: we went down to the stream and sat with our feet in the water, and I prayed with them, explained the story of David and Goliath to them, and related it to being courageous when they were at school. I told them about how I was feeling intimidated to be their leader that weekend, but how I did it anyway because I felt like that was where God wanted me to be. That was such a small moment, but looking back, I think I was using some of my best leadership qualities. I was being relatable, I was being quiet, and I was leading by example. Maybe I’m not the leader with the most infectious laugh, and perhaps I’m not the one who should introduce important speakers. I know I’m not outgoing, and public speaking will likely never be the thing I’m best at. But I am really good at being me. I can pray with and for those I am leading, and I have a heart full and ready to love others. When life gets chaotic, I get quiet, and in the midst of a noisy world, that is my loudest voice.
It is true that some people will make better leaders than others. Leadership is a sought-after quality, and for a good reason! It takes a lot of sacrifice and commitment to be a quality leader, and I admire those who are naturals. But just because leadership in the stereotypical sense doesn’t come easily, doesn’t mean someone can’t make a good leader. It might just mean they are looking in the wrong places to find their strengths.