I recently read Susan Cain’s book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. For this off-the-charts introvert it is a welcomed study of introversion. Welcomed because it is a nuanced piece of work that goes well beyond the stereotypical characterization of the “quiet guy” and the “shy gal” label that is plastered on those of us that are often “highly sensitive” (easily overwhelmed by stimulation) in Cain’s words.
I carried the quiet guy stigma well into my late 30’s. And it’s not that I’m now a boisterous person and life of the party but rather through experience (work and life), professional development, coaching, successes, and failures, I’ve become more comfortable in my own skin and also more knowledgeable about what it means to be an introvert and highly sensitive. Because I have a body of knowledge and experience to draw upon, I no longer let being an introvert serve as an excuse (ok, maybe sometimes I do) for taking on a new challenge or stepping outside my comfort zone (like publishing a book and authoring a blog). Rather I embrace it as a part of who I am … one part of me that is both empowering and frustrating … but it doesn’t solely define me.
So what’s my point in all this? As I’ve had the privilege to engage with leaders at many levels, I’ve noticed that “we” as leadership development professionals and coaches do a good job assessing people’s personality types and strengths … we perhaps fall short in making clear that a person’s particular characteristics shouldn’t be viewed as immovable objects. Rather they are just parts of the larger picture of who we are as individuals. They are also often situational-dependent. As these characteristics evolve or we become more aware of them through experience and education we can embrace, manage, or even counteract them in certain circumstances.
Marshall Goldsmith writes about a particular behavior he encounters in his behavioral coaching of senior executives. He calls its “an excessive need to be me.” In the context of leadership, he often sees leaders who are very self-aware and have decided that’s who they are … others can take it or leave it. Goldsmith notes this behavior as a major de-railer in leaders aspiring to even greater levels of leadership in their organizations. I often find this behavior in leaders who have been through many assessments and personality inventories … but not really coached or mentored.
I think this “need to be me” can be a particularly limiting behavior for introverts. If an introvert comes to accept that’s “just the way I am” they are significantly stunting opportunities for future growth. It’s one thing for a more extroverted person to stay the way they are … they’ll get attention by the nature of their personality. There are of course upsides and downsides just like most situations but at a minimum they are more likely to be noticed. An introvert however that just accepts that he or she is quiet and shy is likely to be overlooked and written off especially in more high-paced work environments. (Note: This is just an opinion based on my experiences, lived and observed.).
So … those of you (us) who are introverted or highly sensitive … don’t let that define you or more importantly, don’t let that limit you. Learn about it, study it, embrace it, and use it to your advantage.
To leaders of the above … invest time in these “quiet” folks. They may turn out to be some of your best thinkers and leaders. I benefited from leaders who invested their time in me and helped me balance being more assertive in my communication and leadership style while remaining authentic to who I am (by the way, these things aren’t mutually exclusive but rather can be incredibly reinforcing and complementary).
As Cain writes so thoughtfully: “Why shouldn’t quiet be strong? And what else can quiet do that we don’t give it credit for?”
Copyright © 2015 Robert E. Goodson Jr. All rights reserved.
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Second image courtesy of stockimages/freedigitalphotos.net