Are you a quiet leader or do you work with others who lead quietly? In the field of librarianship, it is thought that more than half of those in the profession are introverts. On this show, Jennifer Blair, Associate Professor and Head of User Services Librarian at Azusa Pacific University in California, talks about how quiet leaders can excel in promoting successful work environments and leading others in a way that is influential but doesn’t change who they are.


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Adriane Herrick Juarez:

This is Adriane Juarez. You’re listening to Library Leadership Podcast, where we talk about libraries and leadership and speak with guests who share their ideas, innovations and strategic insights in the profession. Are you a quiet leader or do you work with others who lead quietly?

In the field of librarianship it is thought that more than half of those in the profession are introverts. On this show, Jennifer Blair, Associate Professor and Head of User Services Librarian at Azusa Pacific University in California, talks about how quiet leaders can excel in promoting successful work environments, and leading others in a way that is influential but doesn’t change who they are. Enjoy the show!

Jennifer, welcome to the show.

Jennifer Blair:

Thank you so much. Thank you for inviting me. I’m happy to be here.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #1:  I’m happy to have you here. Today we are talking about quiet leadership. As we begin, why is thinking about quiet leadership important for librarians?   01:32 

Jennifer Blair:

I think libraries often get the stereotypes of a quiet environment with quiet people. There’s many other stereotypes that are obviously untrue of libraries and librarians, but this is the one that is often right. A high percentage of people that work in libraries are quiet, or introverted because of the very nature of the work and the environment, and it is one of the few places that discourage being loud. 

The work involved complements introverted people. This is important for many reasons. In quiet leadership because what works in a library is not going to work for the rest of the world. It’s a very unique environment. So I think to be an effective leader in the library doesn’t mean that you have to be outspoken, outgoing, charismatic or even loud. It means challenging the extroverted norms of leadership, seeing yourself as a good leader and learning how to change the work environment to accept you as a capable leader. 

I’ll give you a couple of examples here. If you work for a city or a county library, you know that you’re going to be dealing with other city or county departments, say like the city manager’s office, parks and recreation, IT, public works. One thing that stands out is that the library doesn’t fit the mold in its own city or in its own county because they are very different in both their function and their purpose.

 An academic library serves the college library at large, but at the same time they don’t have a formal program with college credit courses, excluding, of course, library schools. So a library, no matter what type, has a different purpose than all other entities because they serve everyone and they cover every subject. Outside departments will have a vastly different perspective on what a successful leader looks like because they have the perspective of the more stereotypical charismatic leader. Why that matters is because as a library leader, you will have to combat this ideal with these outside departments. They may have influence in even hiring practices or other expectations put on you. So you have the unique challenge of being a quiet leader, not just for your library, but as an influence to your larger entity in addition to the third group of people, and that’s the people that you serve. So quiet leadership is important for librarians because you serve many people in many different ways. How you lead and staying true to who you are will make for a much healthier work environment, greater self-awareness and self-confidence. 

Recognize that there are various priorities that you have to work under. The first priority, and this is just my personal philosophy, is always the internal—being a leader to staff that help run the library. The second is to the public that you serve, whether that be with a public library, with students, staff, faculty, if you’re a student library. The third is to those outside departments. They’re in this order, because to have a happy library in the people that you serve, the people that work for it, have to be happy first. 

Quiet leadership for librarians is important because it acknowledges who you are. It understands who you are dealing with and sets the stage for how you operate. Emphasizing that to be a leader, you don’t have to change who you are. To fake being anything else is a recipe that is set to fail because eventually you will be unhappy with yourself and you will operate in ways that don’t come naturally to you. Therefore, you’re going to struggle in maintaining the library, making others also unhappy. So just know that everyone needs to feel valued at work. As a quiet leader and librarian, you first need to see the values that you bring to the table as an individual, which then plays into how it influences others, making it okay for them to be okay with who they are—also at work, because more than likely you are also working with a lot of quiet people.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #2:  That’s insightful. So these stereotypes overall, how do they end up plaguing quiet leadership expectations?  06:22 

Jennifer Blair:

Yes, this is a very common one. The stereotypes that are fairly common, stereotypes of introverts are that they don’t talk, they don’t even know how to talk, that they’re not assertive, they don’t speak up for themselves, which then gives the stereotype that they are weak. Recognize that stereotypes influence what people think of you, but that doesn’t mean it’s true of you. Other stereotypes that are skills related include, maybe a lack of people skills, that you’re shy, you’re socially awkward, but just know that these definitions are not the same as being an introvert. Not all introverts are shy. Additionally, being quiet and introverted doesn’t mean that you lack people skills. It’s just more of a preference. It’s in your biological makeup. 

Some introverts do have people skills. I would say most do, but they simply just don’t like the small talk. They don’t see the value in it. They just want to get to the point or they are perfectly fine talking about deeper things. So rather than participating, they just choose not to. In addition, not talking or being around a lot of people allows introverts to recharge, whereas the opposite—extroverts, they get energy from people. So the more they stay around people, the more energetic they get. 

I want to touch on shyness as well because this is a common stereotype when it comes to being quiet or introverted. Shyness is very different in that shyness is considered a social anxiety that involves fear of a negative perception of oneself or a fear of being around other people. Whereas introversion, this is not fear based, rather it’s how you become stimulated. As I mentioned, it’s your biological makeup. So being around a lot of people or extroverted situations drains introverts of energy.

Therefore, the focus on recharging is by being alone. Shyness can actually apply to both introverts and extroverts, but it’s going to be displayed very differently. So for a shy introvert, for example, they are going to be overstimulated. Therefore, they want to revert, they want to isolate. But for the shy extrovert, they are acting on that same fear, but they’re seeking their stimulation in the form of people. So it may not seem like they’re shy. 

There’s also going to be stereotypical phrases that are said to introverts with the perception that something is actually wrong with them. Some of these phrases you’ve probably heard and are often said right to your face, even though it seems very rude. For example, You’re so quiet, or you’re too quiet. Speak up, be more assertive, be outgoing. 

Even in job applications, it’s not uncommon for character attributes to be highlighted, such as seeking charismatic, outgoing person. Other common problems are constantly being interrupted during a conversation, feeling like you’re never heard or that your opinions don’t matter. But as a quiet leader, you will also realize that introverts, they’re also constantly being interrupted. They don’t feel valued in what they bring to the table or just feel valued in general. This is because another stereotype allows for those being loudest in the room to get the most attention. And this is unfortunate. So as a quiet leader, you have to recognize that if it hasn’t already happened, at least one of these stereotypes will happen. And a lot of it has to do with the other people. It is a level of ignorance, and a level of acceptance based on societal norms. So unfortunately, it’s not partially the other person’s fault because of that societal expectation. That doesn’t mean that you can’t educate them. 

What you can do as a quiet leader is first accept this is going to happen at some point, which then will allow you to educate them on both your expectations of yourself and what their expectations should be. As a leader it is now your responsibility to set those expectations. Maybe they have a picture in their mind that doesn’t fit yours, so it is your responsibility to inform them how things are going to be. This doesn’t mean that you have to be bossy, that you have to be arrogant. It is retraining your staff in their expectations of you. 

For example, say you replaced an old boss that was super charismatic. They wanted to talk everything out. Say your staff asks you a question and they expect you to answer right away and talk it through. But that’s not how you work. So to correct that behavior, you first have to tell them that you don’t operate the same as that old boss, and you know that it’s going to take some getting used to. That allows you to set the stage for how you prefer things to work out. 

Say, for example, Well, I prefer to have everything in writing so that I can go back to it. That is retraining both yourself on your expectations, not trying to fit the mold of that other person. It also retrains staff that are under you, or even your colleagues, in understanding how you work so that the expectations become more realistic. 

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #3: Given all this, how can quiet leaders learn to influence others without changing who they are?  12:32 

Jennifer Blair:

I would say the best way is to just play to your natural strengths. And with that, I focus inward, and therefore as an introvert focusing inward is the primary way introverts and quiet leaders work. Biologically speaking, introverts and extroverts are very much the opposite in how their brain works, how it absorbs energy, how it focuses, how it recharges. Extroverts absorb energy and get more energy when they’re around people, whereas introverts get their energy or are able to recharge when they’re alone. So understanding your biological makeup allows you to know how you best influence others. 

The second step recommended would be to practice self-awareness. Through self-distanced perspective you look at yourself objectively, focusing on the reasons why you respond or act the way that you do, not trying to criticize yourself, but observing why you do what you do and how you do it. You gather the information about yourself, not for self-judgment—I want to emphasize that, but to understand your worth about who you are, which then translates to how you influence others. How you influence others always depends on you understanding who you are and how you work. To be an effective leader and influencer, you have to realize that the ideals that are set forth are driven by societal ideals, not what actually makes an effective leader.

Your strengths as a leader and an influencer lie in your ability to listen with empathy, to think with complexity, and to be transparent. More than likely, these are going to be your strengths because those strengths are more typical and quiet in introverted leaders. You’re likely going to be better with people one-on-one versus groups, play to the strength, and be friendly and approachable. 

To be friendly and approachable doesn’t mean saying in a loud voice. Hi. Giving him a pep talk. No, it just means that you allow them to come to you. You give them a friendly smile, but that doesn’t mean that you have to carry this long, drawn out conversation just to get them to talk to you. Don’t compromise who you are. Rather, recognize your strengths and play into how that translates into the workplace. Know that introverts also tend to thrive when there is creative freedom and innovation. Introverts, surprisingly, also thrive in team-oriented work environments, because if you take it from the team-oriented perspective, the focus doesn’t all fall on you. Rather, it falls on the entire team. That allows you to not have to be the center of attention. How this translates into influencing others is by surrounding yourself with proactive people that have good work ethic, desire to do a good job, being organized and showing stability.

I would say a stable leader is often highly valued among the people that do the daily work. The people that are not in the leadership position. Although it may not come naturally, be an encourager to people. Allow people to feel comfortable to ask you things and be practical about it. For example, continually tell people that you welcome their questions and responses because you want everybody to do well. When something good happens, tell them congratulations. Give them a card. Put forth a continual effort to make them feel heard by trying to gain their perspective. Most people want to feel valued, and gaining a different perspective is going to help you understand other people’s perspectives and using your intuition, which by the way, with most introverts, is going to be higher—at a higher level. Strengthen it by gathering advice and opinions from others. Ask what they would do in a situation. Use that information as a way to adapt and consider decisions that you make. The idea behind being a good influence isn’t about the flashy. It’s about being authentic, educated about yourself and having a willingness to not just listen to others, but be proactive in implementing ideas that you know are going to work.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #4:  What are quiet leadership qualities that promote healthy and successful working environments? You started down that road, and I’d like the direction you’re heading.  17:45 

Jennifer Blair:

I would say ideal and successful working environments are, again, those that play to your strengths. Don’t try to fit into an idea that you have to force. Ideal relationships build or are built focusing one-on-one. Other focuses are deep relationships that focus on building trust. Quiet leaders need to be able to place their trust in a person before they allow themselves to open up in any relationship, whether it’s working or it’s personal. 

To build that means an environment that allows people to connect with each other on a much deeper level. That means being open and honest and continually reminding people that it is okay to ask questions if they’re confused. You go out of your way to ask how they’re doing. If you notice something is off, ask them one-on-one. Don’t be afraid to reveal things about yourself so that they know it’s okay to do it for themselves. 

For example, say in a staff meeting there’s a topic talking about budgets and you know that you are terrible with numbers. Openly state so everybody can hear that you’re not the best with numbers. Stating simple things like this lets people know that you acknowledge imperfections with yourself, and that also lets them know that imperfections in themselves are also okay. 

Say another example, you have staff and you ask them to complete a task. Ask them if there is anything they have questions on and continually emphasize that they can show you drafts of their progress along the way or the final project is done. If it’s on a more personal level. If, for example, say you notice a staff member is looking pretty sad. Pull them aside and ask if everything is okay. That doesn’t mean they have to reveal it to you, but just putting yourself out there shows that as a leader you are concerned about them as a person. Overall, it’s all about assurance, letting them know that you are human, they are human, and you don’t expect them to act like robots. This is not a machine. This is not just all about the library. It’s about the people. So with that, you are playing to your strength of empathy. Be sure to act on that. 

Quiet leaders are also very good at solving complex problems and developing work that is effective and efficient. A successful environment that allows people time to do research and find answers will allow for a healthier environment. How this might look in the day-to-day is often the opposite of what people expect. It allows time for people to answer questions rather than on the spot or finding a solution in the moment, which is very typical of the more extroverted leadership expectations.

Libraries work on projects or assignments that require more work before a final solution is brought to the table. Allowing the proper time to complete that work is essential. When you ask a question that doesn’t require an immediate answer, state it. That gives them more assurance. For example, say before you even ask it, I don’t need an answer right away, but, and then you ask the question. You can even give a follow through to keep accountability—tell them when you need an answer. Say, Think about it and tell me by the end of the week. 

Quiet leaders and introverts also thrive with creative freedom and innovation, like I mentioned before. Creative environments often are quiet environments. When creativity and innovation is required, a successful environment allows enough time to do it, and it may be driven by seeing what others are doing, but it doesn’t necessarily involve a lot of noise. I would say when it comes to creativity and innovation, allow others to share their work, allow them to work on it together or to work on it alone. Allow them to ask for other people’s opinion, because when you work together or when you’re allowed to have that authentic type of environment—creativity and innovation end up flourishing and becoming stronger.

You may be surprised, but quiet leaders and introverts actually thrive in team-oriented work environments, as I mentioned before, the focus is not all on them. Most will say they don’t like being the center of attention. Teams thrive with introverts that know what their task is, and they can work on it in collaboration with others. But they also know what their individual responsibility is. It also ensures everyone, no matter who is on the team, is accountable. Dividing tasks evenly. 

Thriving environments are also well prepared.  Agendas are well prepared and they’re even sent out beforehand so that there’s no surprises for all the other quiet people. Sending out an agenda, say, for a staff meeting with ample time for people to prepare allows introverts to plan and have the proper time to ask and answer questions. 

Finally, thriving environments are genuine. They’re transparent, and they allow people to feel valued. Allowing everyone to have their turn and be given praise with a job well done allows introverts to feel respected and valued.  In environments where there is a lot of hype or there’s a lot of noise, introverts see right through it. So be genuine in how you speak or interact, not fluffing up the conversations. You don’t have to be blunt, but focus on what people need.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #5:  Are there ways quiet leaders can develop their skills in creating work environments that are inspiring and encourage collaboration?  24:18 

Jennifer Blair:

Yes, absolutely, and I’m going to take this a little bit backwards. I’m going to answer the last part first because it plays into my answering the first part. Because collaboration often does not come naturally or may not come naturally to you, how you see collaboration affects how you involve others. First, you want to change your perspective about what collaboration means. Remind yourself that collaboration allows people to feel valued with the benefit that it doesn’t all fall on you for the entire responsibility. In addition, although you are the one leading the group effort, the attention isn’t all on you. Remind yourself of that while you involve others in your work. Naturally, you probably like working alone, but as a leader, this is where you’re going to need to stretch yourself. Remind yourself that you need to ask for other people’s opinions and ask them to be involved. Your natural inclination is probably to just do it all yourself. This is a habit that needs to be broken whenever necessary, because as a leader, your team wants to feel like they are being heard or that they can be involved. Because it may also not come naturally to most of you, you may need to write notes or make a mental note to remind yourself to involve other people in things that require more than one perspective. Remind yourself it is supposed to be a team effort.

Those notes could be, say, a calendar reminder to ask so-and-so about their progress on whatever it is they’re working on. Complimenting a job well done may seem awkward to you, especially verbally. Remind yourself to always say thank you.  When someone has done a good job, be sure to tell them. But tell them in a way that is natural to you. For example, instead of saying, Good job, maybe that just doesn’t come naturally to you. Say, I really appreciate everything that you’re doing. Maybe it means sending a message through email instead of in person. When it comes to giving credit—documents that tie into their work. Ask them to always put their name to their work. Let everyone know that their name will be added to the group effort because it’s important to you that everyone gets credit for their work. That will make people feel valued, which then inspires a team effort. 

As far as developing a skill and creating inspiring work environments, I suggest several things. First, to lead from behind. But in reality, leadership again, it requires a team effort. So instead of leading in front, focus on leading your team, making them your primary focus. The second is to—surprisingly, allow boundaries with yourself—letting others know it’s okay to set boundaries for themselves. For yourself, and other quiet ones, they may feel that they often assume more responsibility because they have a hard time saying no.  Know that saying no is okay. Learn to set boundaries. And if you’re not sure when, ask yourself if what they are asking you to do puts you under too much stress or if the expectations are unrealistic. If it is, listen to your intuition by setting boundaries for yourself. You are telling others it is okay to set boundaries for them. 

For example, say your task with a team project. Ask everyone what tasks they are working on now and how much time they have to devote to this new task. Set priorities so that they don’t think you have no clue what they do or that you’re that you’re not understanding. Set realistic and practical goals. If there’s something that requires someone to work extra hours, ask them their availability rather than assuming that they are going to work whether they like it or not. 

Overall, the most important thing to be an inspiration, besides being authentic, is to let people know that you support them and will advocate for them. That doesn’t always have to be verbal. Actions always speak louder than words, and placing fear or unrealistic expectations never makes for an inspiring environment. An example I’ll give is one I often do with my staff and that is allowing them to share, to share their story and to listen, to ask them about their goals.

I’ve had bosses operate by placing fear on others—being afraid to even speak in front of them. I never wanted to be that type of leader. So if I heard from someone else, or from them, themselves, say that they’re interested in taking a class, earning a degree, learning a new task, I always encouraged them to do it. I let them know we would work with them as best we could to allow them to do it, because you don’t want them to feel limited or you don’t want their job to feel too rigid. Placing myself or yourself in their position allows you to see it from their perspective. 

I would say to be an inspiration is to be what is called a servant leader. A servant leader leads to serve others, putting the needs of others first, helping them develop their skill and feel encouraged. In the end, what benefits them benefits you, and the library—so it’s a win win. But this perspective allows the focus to not be on you. It encourages a culture of trust. It fosters leadership in others and encourages various thoughts to be able to be discussed. It focuses on empathy and a commitment to the growth of everyone. And that, I think, is an all encompassing statement and philosophy that allows you to be a really good inspiration to others.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #6:  Is there anything else you’d like to share?  31:01 

Jennifer Blair: 

I would just like to share that being a leader doesn’t mean that you have to fit a certain mold. As a quiet leader it’s important that you remind yourself you are in your position because someone saw leadership qualities already in you. Even if you were in a situation where the position was more of a formality or it got placed in your lap, time still proves that if the circumstances that got you there—even if they were out of the norm, you are still in this leadership position. You are still aiming to do a good job and you’re going to continue to prove it. Recognize the qualities in you. Don’t beat yourself up if you’re not charismatic or if you’re not outgoing. And don’t force yourself to think that you have to be that way. Most of what you do as a leader doesn’t require you to make speeches every day. You don’t have to do a pep talk every day. The best thing that you can do as a quiet leader is to recognize your strengths and the strengths of others so that you can be an encouragement to others. Many may not see themselves as leaders because they see themselves as too quiet. Just by you, being in this quiet leadership position also allows them to be an inspiration and to be inspired by you.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #7:  Do you have any favorite management or leadership books or resources and why?   32:27 

Jennifer Blair:

What opened the door to me on the topic of quiet leadership were two primary resources. One is the popular, very well known book by Susan Cain, it’s titled Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. And the second book is by Elaine Aron, titled The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You. 

In Susan Cain’s book, it doesn’t really center on leadership, but it does outline how our culture permeates an extroverted ideal. It highlights what it means to be quiet, focusing on the inward, the opposite of extroversion—of not wanting to self promote, like how you like working on your own, yet you’re just as profound in impacting the world. This is really the book that opened my eyes and it made me feel at home and validated. 

The second book, The Highly Sensitive Person, doesn’t really focus on only introverts, but it goes along the same lines in validating what it means to be highly sensitive. HSP’s, for short, are primarily introverted. So if you’ve never heard of this, I’d encourage you to look at this. If you feel like you are highly sensitive. What this resource talks about is that it dives into what it feels like to feel overstimulated as a way of life and how to embrace those sensitivities rather than reject them or feeling like you don’t belong. So these two resources, I would say, along with anything by—she’s really popular, Brené Brown, I recommend because it gives you a lot of information about understanding yourself, but mostly it opens your eyes to know that you’re not alone and that you feel valued and validated.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #8:  Those sound like good ones. Thank you. Jennifer, in closing, what do libraries mean to you personally?  34:31 

Jennifer Blair:

Libraries are my world. Personally, before working in libraries, I felt like I didn’t belong. I felt very out of place. But I’ve always loved libraries and I started working in libraries a little bit later on, and when I discovered libraries, I really found my niche. I found like-minded people that were interested in the same things, similar demeanor, a lot of quiet, introverted people. And they—they just thought very similar to me, and so we get along really well, and I just feel like I’ve met my people, and I’ve met my emphasis. I’ve found the field that I absolutely love. So that’s what libraries mean to me.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #9:  It’s fantastic to find your people and your place in the world. I know libraries mean so much to all of us. This topic of quiet leadership is an important one in our field as there are many ways to lead. Quiet leadership can be a practice that brings forward many of our skills to best serve libraries. So I’m happy we’ve had this conversation. Thank you for sharing your information.  35:24 

Jennifer Blair:

Thank you so much. Again, I was so excited to be able to be invited to this podcast. I always hope that the information that I provide is at least validating, making you feel valued, but that you can also get some good information for yourself and others.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Definitely. So many people are going to benefit from this, Jennifer, thank you. 

Jennifer Blair:

Thank you so much.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

You’ve been listening to Library Leadership podcast. This is Adriane Herrick Juarez. For more episodes, tune in to Library Leadership, where you can now subscribe to get episodes delivered right into your email inbox. Our producer is Nathan Sinclair Vineyard. Thanks for listening. We’ll see you next time. 

We would like to thank the Park City Library for their dedicated support of this show. The opinions expressed on this show are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect the views of Library Leadership podcast or our sponsors.