“You have no personality,” he informed me, as if he were doing me a favor.
I stared, dumbfounded, high-voltage emotion blasting through me. Somewhere deep inside, thoughts tried to form. “Really? That is your conclusion about me after two laborious hours of you making this little party all about . . . you?!?”
Unfortunately, the traffic jam of emotions and the distance from my brain to my mouth proved to be too much . . . again. So, I just stood there, looking stupid.
I can laugh now, but it’s taken me years to embrace this part of my personality that’s often considered by our outgoing western world to be a weakness. You see, I am a woman and a leader. And, along with one third of the world’s population, I am also an introvert. And while being a woman leader in a man’s world, where you are often the one expected to conform (ie. leaving a certain amount of your femininity at the door), is challenging enough, being an introvert just makes it that much more . . . interesting.
According to Susan Cain’s book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking‚ “a widely held but rarely articulated belief in our society is that the ideal self is bold, alpha, gregarious. While introversion (defined as people who prefer less stimulating environments and tend to enjoy quiet concentration, listen more than they talk and think before they speak) is viewed somewhere between disappointment and pathology.”
Being a female introvert, then, can feel as if you’ve involuntarily wrapped yourself inside your own shadow. While there’s more of you beneath the surface than above, in an age preoccupied with sparkles and flash, what’s valued is what’s visible, not what’s ‘discoverable.’ And the bubbly, talkative, and always laughing personality is today’s perfect Eve.
And she’s great. It’s just, what do you do when you’re not her? When you’re easily dismissed based on that first-impression? When, as a leader, you want to leave those high-energy gatherings for something quieter? When you find yourself labelled as being proud, boring, or even a non-personality although you’re actually quite the opposite, if someone would just take the time to find out….
In my own attempts at navigating this dilemma, I have come to recognize a few helpful truths. First: introverts make good leaders. Cain writes “studies show that introverts are better at leading proactive employees because they listen to and let them run with their ideas.” In other words, introverts excel at leading leaders. Second: I am at my best when I make room for my introversion; allowing myself to develop the rich inner world that keeps me motivated and inspired. Yes, we introverts need to push ourselves to be social, but we also need to find joy in being who we are. And, the key: there is one sparkle that proves irresistible every time, whether you’re extroverted or introverted . . .
The person who is at peace with herself always stands out.
Are you an introvert or an extrovert? What challenges do you have to overcome in leadership, or in finding peace with who you are?