Confessions of a Corporate Wallflower

I’m pretty sure I’ve come close to draining my emotional bank account with Rick Chambers. He wrote an amazing piece for this blog back in November called “The Secret of Leadership: Do Nothing” that received so much more attention than anything I’ve ever written. So I asked (begged) him to write about his personal experience of being an introverted leader; his wonderful thoughts follow.

Rick is a director of Worldwide Communications for a Fortune 500 who has worked in the public relations field for more than 22 years. An award winning journalist, he is also a published author and an award-winning short-story writer. Rick is a native of Kalamazoo, Michigan. You can find out more about him on his LinkedIn profile.

Oh, and I owe him lunch (or maybe that’s plural).

A few years ago, my mom bumped into a former junior-high teacher of mine, and he quizzed her about my career in corporate public relations.

“Back when Rick was my student, if you`d told me he was going to grow up to be a media spokesperson for a major corporation, I never would have believed it,” he said.

Can`t say I blame him. Speaking to a key audience or facing the business end of a news camera is the kind of job you`d expect to give to a handsome, charming extrovert, the kind of guy who is comfortable and energized in a crowd.

I`m not that guy.

Look up “introvert” in your Webster`s, and you`ll find my picture. (Actually, you won`t?€”I didn`t show up for the photo session.) I`m the one hovering on the edge of a noisy room during a social hour, the one who collapses in his hotel room exhausted by a crowded conference, who is invigorated by a solo walk in the forest and ranks “networking” right up there with “prostate exam.”

Okay, I`m overstating it. A little. I care about the company I work for, I care about my colleagues, and I care about the people we serve. I want to do my best to build dialogue, nurture relationships and learn from them, which is what true public relations is about. Indeed, it`s what leadership is about. The challenge for me is admitting I approach those things in a different way than an extrovert might.

Such an admission came only after years of trying to remake my image. I copycatted my extroverted friends. My dad is a retired auto salesman, and I tried ripping off his mannerisms. In all of this, I failed miserably. I felt like a fake. Small talk was exhausting, networking was a chore, and I felt deeply inferior to colleagues who seemingly won friends and influenced people with ease.

But then, over time, came a realization. With maturity and sound advice from wise people, I began to learn that denying my introverted “wiring” was denying myself?€”and robbing others of the value I could bring.

An introvert`s tendency to carefully weigh answers and options is an asset in communication. An introvert`s wish for a deeper understanding of an issue or a person makes her or him a great resource, as well as considerably self aware. My introversion has made me a better writer. And understanding where I gain energy (in solitude) or expend it (in crowds) has improved the value I gain from, and give to, both.

In short, I`ve learned that neither the introvert nor the extrovert is a better leader than the other. Each is needed. Each has something to teach the other. Each brings important assets to leadership?€”assets that are applied more effectively if the leader works from a clear understanding and acceptance of how he or she is created.

I`ve learned a great deal from extroverted leaders. Indeed, I`m constantly amazed by their unique gifts. But knowing that an introvert can bring equal value is a welcome affirmation of who I am and what I provide to my career, to my colleagues and to this life.

I am a former executive in a Fortune 100 company. I have owned and operated an executive coaching firm since 2003 called Aspire Collaborative Services LLC. We partner with great leaders to help them become even greater at developing, improving, and sustaining relationships with the people who are essential to their success. This blog is for leaders and those who help them to be more intentional about relationships at work. My top personal values include respect for others, kindness, compassion, collaboration and gratitude. I work very hard at practicing my values daily and when I don’t succeed, I practice some more. I am married with two wonderful daughters and two spoiled pugs.

15 comments on “Confessions of a Corporate Wallflower

  1. So nice to meet you here, Rick, and thank you for this thoughtful piece. I always love Mary Jo’s blog and today is not the exception. Sweetly put and very honest point of view here. The value of authenticity and its power needs to be rediscovered by so many of us as we mature beyond the initial stage of trying to be something we are not. Once we learn that it is not in anyone’s best interest to do this, we need to come to terms with our own imperfection and understand it is that which makes us perfectly at ease with ourselves. Inspiring post, indeed!

  2. Mary Jo,

    Thanks for begging Rick to come back, especially to share this story. I always enjoy reading about other introvert leaders because I can connect so much of their story with my own.

  3. Well put! Bravo for embracing your natural leadership style. I’ve interviewed too many managers through the years who seemed to be playing a part. To be honest, it left me doubting their true abilities. Great leaders need to find a way to achieve goals with what they have to bring to the table versus simply trying to copy others. When they can do that for themselves, they are much more capable of helping those they are leading to do the same.

  4. Rick and Mary Jo – thanks for shining such a thoughtful light on the inaccurate view (my opinion!) that extroverts make better leaders. While extroverts may light up the room when they arrive, my experience tells me that it’s steady glow emitted by the introverted leader that moves people over the long term.

  5. What a wonderful and thought provoking post. I think that any leader who can clearly communicate and hold a vision, get people engaged in it and excited about it, help them figure out the “how to”, and is passionately committed to their people can be successful. Introversion/extroversion is far less important than being authentic, and truly caring about each individual on the team.

  6. Rick, this is another great piece and I think Mary Jo is going to get a huge round of thanks from her readers for charming you into guest posting here again (I’ve heard her radio interview, so her ability to charm is evident).

    I think in reading about the perspectives of an introverted leader, and what is the common census of how extroverted leaders are perceived, I think what’s really important to recognize is that all of us in our own ways bring value to the table. Our experiences, the knowledge we’ve gained through education and real-life, and our personality and the inner drive that comes with it, all of this adds value to our interactions.

    As you pointed out, Rick, by attempting to emulate someone else, you ended up denying offering the intrinsic value you have. That in itself is the most powerful take-home message for all.

    Thanks again, Rick, for sharing your thoughts here. We’ll start a fund to help pay for all those lunches Mary Jo now owes you. 🙂

  7. Thanks for brining up Rick`s story. Many of us introverts secretly wish we could be extroverts. Thanks for reminding us that we are also an important asset. Not as visible as the extroverts, but we are valuable, too.

  8. Thanks everyone for your very kind comments. I’m especially pleased to see other introverts feeling affirmed by this guest blog, which is what I hoped would happen and was my motivation for writing it. That, and lunch with Mary Jo!

  9. Monica, well put. Again, and as always – thanks for your comments.

    Tom, so many of my introverted clients think they are the only ones! Nice that you could connect with Rick’s story.

    Lisa, so often it seems that we come to authenticity with age and wisdom. I wonder if that is what you’ve noticed when you interview?

    Jane and Ava, isn’t it wonderful that all types can bring their strengths into leadeship and be successful?

    Tanveer, I have a hunch that you and Rick would connect well. It was my pleasure to showcase Rick’s writing and wisdom. Now fork over the money :).

    Kevin, as an extrovert, my favorite people are introverts. Really. Such strengths they have, and often a calming influence for us excitable types, too.

    Rick, lunch is on me as soon as I can collect from Tanveer. And, of course, if you ever want to write another guest post, you have an open invitation……

  10. Mary Jo, you are spot on with the “authenticity with age” thought. Whether it is getting comfortable in our own skin or simply growing tired of playing the game, I do agree time allows the real person to emerge. Older candidates are much more likely to show me their true nature. It’s refreshing. The task at that point is to get the individual actively involved in helping decision makers see the advantage of having a person on board who is not part of the cookie cutter management crowd.

  11. Mary Jo, I just want to add my thanks to the list above for Rick’s thoughtful and inspiring article. I could identify completely, right down to queasiness at the thought of networking. I think there is definite pressure to squeeze into the extrovert mold, but at the end of the day people respond to authenticity, not some canned textbook management performance complete with hand-pumping, loud laugh, and plastic smile. An introverted leader may have an edge on approachability and gaining trust from her team, as well as a unique reflective perspective. The workplace needs both.

  12. Lisa, thanks for stopping back and adding that piece of wisdom.

    Stephanie, I’m glad you could relate. We are an extraverted nation in the U.S.; about 60% of the population are extraverts – which can make it very tough on introverts! Thanks.

  13. Rick, Mary Jo,

    Even I thought that being an Introvert is a big disadvantage but Rick’s experience is really enriching. But my concern is will I be myself if I copy an introvert leader or is it better to learn from his experiences.


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