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.