Overcoming Your Introversion: Lesson One
In a global pandemic that has many of us in lockdown for a while, I thought people might need some help transitioning back into the world after quarantine. In my work, I help Emerging Leaders to prepare themselves to become extraordinary leaders. Often, those Emerging Leaders are moderately or highly introverted. Accordingly, they find that some of the traits that make them wonderful as introverts can become fairly daunting obstacles as they begin to ascend the ladder to effective leadership. I thought it might be helpful to share a few of the lessons I use with my Emerging Leaders with you. I hope you find this series of short lessons a helpful benefit! Get your extrovert on, my friends!
Cautious & Reserved
By now, you have most likely noticed that you tend to be more cautious and reserved, more given to reflection, a bit less boisterous, and a little more quiet than some of your co-workers. You have probably also noticed that you do your best work in your office (or workspace) with the door closed so that you won’t be interrupted and lose your train of thought. Being able to concentrate and focus on YOUR work is a strength, and being able to adjust to rapid-fire change and disruption are most likely not strengths for you. Each of us has given strengths and other areas that are not yet strengths, and each one of us would be wise to put a moderate amount of effort into adjusting our efforts and behaviors to build some confidence around new strength opportunities. Perhaps working from home has encouraged you to work on this, the garbage truck outside, a child needing help with school work, learning to jump into that zoom call a few minutes early rather than being able to see coworkers gather into the conference room. Allow little disruptions to strengthen your ability to adapt and adjust. The world will always be evolving and changing, this skill will help in many areas of your life.
Today’s lesson is about finding the confidence to make sure that your story is told. One of the challenges with being an introvert is that you work with many other introverts and a handful of extroverts. The extroverts tend to carry the day in meetings, doing most of the presenting, most of the talking, most of the debating, and the dialogue. While all of this is going on, the introverts are listening intently and waiting for a break in the conversation so that they can speak their mind. Much of the time, that elegant break in the discussion never comes and the introverts listen in silence, while the extroverts happily speak and debate. Then the meeting is over, and everyone starts on the next task. The problem with that is that we never heard all of the great ideas from the introverts, and so our conclusions and solutions might not yet be optimal.
Tell Your Story!
If you’re that introvert that struggles to speak up and to offer your suggestions and solutions in a meeting, I feel your pain. I am an ambivert, who is much more of an introvert than an extrovert naturally. I have to work to tell my story as well. You MUST tell your story because if you don’t, nobody will know about all of the brilliant ideas you have kicking around in that tremendous brain of yours! The key is to realize that you are competing for everything in a capitalist society. You are competing for attention, for budget dollars, for additional staff to help you get the work done, for the promotion to Vice President, and for many other positive things, at all times! If you don’t tell your story, it doesn’t get told, and if it doesn’t get told, you cannot get the resources that will help you fuel your ascension to leadership in your organization.
True Story: During my corporate career, I was on a Leadership Team and one of my good friends in the company (who was also a tremendous mentor to me…) pulled me aside after an Executive Team meeting and sat me down in his office and changed my life. He said something like this: “Michael, you have to stop being so reserved in these meetings. You and your team are doing game-changing work, day in and day out, and too many of the members of the leadership team don’t know enough about it because you are not telling the story.”
He understood that I was thinking my work speaks for itself and he said, “Michael, realize that as good as your work is, it DOESN’T speak for you. YOU must speak for you.” Then he said the part that hit me like a ton of bricks and changed my life for the better: “The worst part is that your team is getting less than its fair share of the resources and attention for their outstanding work because you’re not telling their story for them. Michael, it’s like you’re the best violinist in the orchestra and when your turn comes to play your part, you choose to remain motionless and silent…” Then he sealed the deal for me: “If you want your teammates to suffer because you’re unwilling to play your musical part, they will never get their fair share of budgets, resources, etc., because you are not playing the music. Play the music, Michael!”
Play The Music
This led to me realizing that I needed to step up to the microphone, play the music, and to make contributing my ideas a bigger priority. I needed to make telling the rest of the team about my team’s accomplishments a bigger priority because they deserved it. I needed to make putting my direct reports into the spotlight a bigger priority as well because I deserved it. I needed to speak up and keep speaking up so that our music would be played and our story would be told. Otherwise, I was sentencing myself and my direct reports to be under-appreciated and under-funded for eternity. Meetings, brainstorming sessions, reporting, and so many other team events should be an active activity for EVERYONE involved. We are all pieces of the puzzle that work together to form a full picture, all different instruments that make up a symphony. Let all be heard.
So, don’t let that happen to you. Don’t let that happen to your hard-working team. You must promote yourself and your team. You won’t enjoy it much as an introvert, but you absolutely must do it. Don’t be so humble that you fail to play your piece in the orchestra. Don’t be so private that you refuse to tell your story and the story of how well your team is contributing. Toss your best ideas into the mix, learn to invite yourself into the discussion and the dialogue more often, and like me, you will find that you can do it. Trust me, the effect will not just be profound, but it will be profoundly FANTASTIC! You must be a good role model for the other introverts too, especially if you have any on your team. Lead by example so others can follow. Show them how it’s done and promote it, encourage the other quiet ones by example. You may be surprised too!
YOU Got This!
You can do this! While you may be an introvert or an ambivert who is mostly introverted, like me, you can absolutely learn to play your horn and tell your story! Take great care of your team, teach them confidence, lead by example, promote them to share, and view this as an important priority. Engage and make the effort required to ensure that you’re telling the story on behalf of yourself and your team until they can feel comfortable doing it too. Help encourage the other leaders that may be introverted as well, it may take time to adjust, but you got this.
Talk To An Experienced Coach
Michael is an award-winning Executive Development and Business Advisor who works with C-suite Executives, their Leadership Teams, and their Emerging Leaders to build business momentum and to develop the Leadership Abilities that lead to Ultra High Performing cultures for fast-growth companies. If you’d like more information about how to get your extrovert on, you can contact us today for a free consultation or call 651-335-4505 for more details.