Friday, August 2, 2013

Extroversion Is Not the Same as Leadership: Helping All Girls Become Leaders

About a year ago, I picked up a fascinating book at the libary - Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain. As an introvert myself, I was curious to hear about this new-found "power" I had. If you haven't had a chance to read the book, I encourage you to check out her TED Talk on the subject:

As I read, I found myself nodding along to much of what she had written. Most of my life, I felt like extroversion was the ideal and that my quieter, introspective nature was a flaw or weakness that I needed to work on. That's kinda sad when you think about it, especially when you consider that about half the population identifies as introverts. Half of our population, our schools, our workplaces and yes, even our Girl Scout troops, are being made to feel out of place, like something is wrong with them. (I particularly like that she opens her talk by describing her childhood camp experience.)

My particular troop is quite heavy on the extrovert scale - we've always joked that we have a group of future bosses on our hands. They're never short on opinions and never shy about sharing them. But as Cain points out, even extroverts can benefit from embracing their "inner introvert" from time to time, as some of the best ideas and inspiration can come from moments of quiet and solitude.

The more I've learned on this topic, the more I've had to rethink how we manage our Girl Scout troop and define leadership within it.

For example, just think about the concept of group brainstorming. We've all been in situations where the discussion wasn't necessarily dominated by the best ideas, but by whoever could come up with them the fastest or shout them out the loudest. As leaders, we may think we're leveling the playing field by giving everyone a chance to speak, but we're missing the point. Most introverts do their best thinking through careful and reasoned deliberation and aren't likely to throw out ideas on the spot.

For me, it's changed how I approach regular troop activities such as brainstorming ideas and voting on preferences. Sometimes we still do it as a group, but other times we ask girls to work individually to come up with possible ideas and then bring them back to the group. (Truth be told, even with our extroverts, the most thoughtful ideas typically come from this process.) Same goes for group work on badge activities - we're continually mixing it up. Sometimes we have them work individually, sometimes in pairs, sometimes in small groups, sometimes as a whole troop. More often than not, we try to let them choose the style that they prefer.

I also think it applies when we're doing things such as camping or troop trips. Remember, introverts aren't necessarily shy - instead, they draw their energy from being alone with their thoughts. Too much time around others tends to zap their energy. On our troop camping trips, we always have at least a little "turtle time" for girls to go back into their shells (their tents). Our introverts can then happily read or write in their journals while our extroverts chitchat - either way, it gives their introverted leaders some much needed down time.

And if one of the goals of Girl Scouting is to teach leadership, then we also have to understand and acknowledge that there are different leadership styles. The goal really should be to help each girl discover and develop the leadership potential within herself, rather than teaching her that leaders must think, speak or behave in one particular way. This isn't always easy - it means you have to be on the lookout for those teaching moments.

We often have them work in groups or practice leadership situations and then discuss the dynamics at play. Did everyone get a chance to contribute? How did you decide who was going to lead? How did you feel when your ideas weren't being heard? How did you make the final decision - by majority rules, by consensus, by compromise? How did you feel when the group wasn't listening when you were leading? What could she have done to get your attention more effectively? Let's face it - leadership and teamwork aren't easy for adults, so our girls are getting a tremendous head start by practicing these skills at an early age.

I think Cain nails these differences when she said, "We know from myths and fairy tales that there are many different kinds of powers in this world. One child is given a light saber, another a wizard's education. The trick is not to amass all the different kinds of power, but to use well the kind you've been granted."

What do you think? Have you seen these concepts of introversion and extroversion play out in your own troop? How do you manage the differences while helping to develop each girl's unique leadership abilities?

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