karen chee performing stand-up

Being A Student Leader as an Introvert

For whatever reason, being an introvert or extrovert seems to be what most people consider their defining characteristic. The stereotype is that extroverts are loud, funny, and have a lot of friends. Introverts are shy, quiet, and like to be alone. While that may be true for me and a lot of other introverts, it doesn’t mean an introverted person can’t get involved in organizations and take leadership roles that require social interaction. 

I knew when I started college that I wanted to have more of a college experience than going to campus just for class, so I spent my first semester looking for organizations that fit with my preferences. 

I found Alternative Breaks, where you travel to volunteer for a cause of your choice. I knew I would be leaving my comfort zone. In moments where I had to participate in a large group, I had to consciously make myself get more comfortable interacting. I traveled with a group of 12 for a week, and this was the perfect situation because I got comfortable with all of them, and interacting was no longer so difficult within a few days. I made sure I gave myself time to process my day in silence so I wouldn’t get too drained. 

Knowing myself and my limits were key for getting comfortable in a role like this, and that applies to every leadership position I’ve taken since then. 

The following year, I got involved in BOLD FIU, a communications agency on campus. BOLD always has a big group of students, and my first semester in it, I mostly kept to myself at meetings. Approaching and interacting with strangers is what I have always had the most trouble with, but there was such a welcoming environment that I slowly got comfortable in the organization. 

The following semester I took on a leadership position, and currently, I’m on the e-board and manage clients and members of the organization. It’s something I didn’t think I would be able to do, but I found a way to feel comfortable taking on a leadership role while not getting overwhelmed with interactions in big groups. It’s given me a close group that I feel comfortable with, and that’s key. 

For many introverts, meeting new people and taking the lead depends on the atmosphere. 

“I’m personally a really guarded person, but when it comes to being a leader or being outspoken… it’s not something I’m uncomfortable with,” said Amy, a student at FIU. “I feel like the presence someone gives is really important.”

I also took a chance and participated in Panther Camp and Academy of Leaders. These were weekend retreats with much bigger groups, and it was much harder for me to get comfortable with constant group events and very little time alone. I was glad I did them because it took me out of my comfort zone, but I know it’s not for everyone. 

Now, I have also joined LEAD Team, which is a small group of student leaders. Here, I’ve been able to get comfortable with the group while facilitating group activities, and it’s given me an opportunity to lead in a less intense environment. 

Being a leader doesn’t mean constant social interaction. Getting involved doesn't mean being the loudest person in the room. It means finding a way to make an impact in a way that fits your style and motivates you to empower others. Find ways to recharge after spending time in a group. Get comfortable with one-on-one discussions as much as with public speaking. As an introvert, I’ve learned that knowing yourself well is the first and most important step in becoming a leader.