The other night I was going to the gym with a friend of mine and she said, “A piece of constructive criticism: talk to your people like they are people.” I felt somewhat slighted and confused; I always make it a point to be respectful and considerate of others, whether superior, peer, or subordinate. Worried I had been discourteous or rude, I voiced these concerns and her response was, “No, you’ve never been rude, but it has been noticed that you can be aloof. Your subordinates are concerned that you think they’re not performing up to your standard and you think they’re continuously f**king up.”
Needless to say, this came as a pretty big shock to me, and it brings me to the topic for today’s entry: Leadership Challenges for Introverts.
A little background info: In the early 1960s the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator assessment was first introduced as a means of finding out good “fits” for individuals entering the workforce. It was based on four principal psychological functions proposed by Carl Jung in his 1921 book, Psychological Types. Once the assessment is finished, the test-taker will be provided with a result of “extraversion” or “introversion.” Now, just to be clear–I don’t take any concept/assessment/judgement put forth by another person as the gospel truth because they are basing their findings off THEIR OWN view of reality, but I think that everyone provides a piece of the pie to deeper understanding of the human condition. The MBTI has 16 possible outcomes, and although 16 is far too few to showcase EVERYTHING in the human spectrum of behavior, it is a step in the right direction for showcasing the variety of differences among people. We shouldn’t look at human behavior in a binary fashion; people are not 1s and 0s. No one is just an introvert, and no one is just an extravert. It’s different for everyone. This post is for anyone who experiences more introverted tendencies in the workplace, especially anyone in a leadership position.
I have continuously managed anywhere from 20-30 people in my career so far, and sometimes it can be difficult due to my tendency to turn inward. When my friend mentioned that my new employees thought I might be displeased with their performance, I realized there were misunderstandings on both my part and theirs; they thought I was being aloof due to something negative they had done, and I was harboring an insecurity due to feeling uncomfortable in a completely new job. If anything, I thought I was not of the same caliber of their former managers due to how new the job was for me. My insecurities caused me to draw in and not engage with them as much as I should have been. Now, these concerns were voiced in the beginning of my time managing this particular office, and as I have become more comfortable with the job and the employees, I have since come out of my shell. Things have been getting better, but this experience really drove home a few concepts.
1. Not letting our insecurities rule our behavior. Although certain aspects of this new job are very different from my last, certain parts are very similar. Managers all perform certain basic administrative functions that translate in a fairly consistent manner from job to job. We can’t let our insecurities in the new position derail our ability to pull from what we know and have been trained in.
2. Being proactive in engaging our employees. Because of our tendency to turn inward, it gives the appearance of “being aloof.” I have never wanted anyone to think that I have ever thought they were “beneath me,” or weren’t living up to some ridiculous standard (although if someone is f**king up repeatedly, like common sense should dictate, they should know they aren’t meeting the baseline standard). We can get lost in our own thoughts and heads so easily, it can cause us to forget to talk to our employees about what’s going on in THEIR lives. I think people who have introverted tendencies have a fairly large amount of data constantly moving around in their heads, so sometimes we just get stuck in there. Make it a point to get out of the whirlpool of your own thoughts. Other people really might think you don’t give a sh*t and therefore may start developing negative attitudes toward working for you.
-image from Hyperbole and a Half
Just replace “house” with office. Sorry, it’s not that I don’t want to talk to you, but I have to think about if wormholes are possible with quantum mechanics, what amazingly healthy quinoa recipe on Pinterest I’m going to try and convince myself I’m going to make tonight except then just end up making mac-and-cheese instead, solving every major world problem, and if I have an adequate pair of shoes from the transition from fall to winter.
3. Being cognizant of the link between trust and motivation. Building off #2, in being proactive with our employees, we can start to build trust over time, and this will ultimately pave the way for motivation in the workplace. People want to work for people who give a sh*t about them. Plain and simple.
4. Being approachable. I have RBF (Resting Bitch Face) like none other. Especially in the mornings.
Therefore, I know I have to make the effort to smile, even if it ends up looking like this most of the time:
Smiling and saying something as simple as “Good morning, how are you?” while basic, can open up the potential for a conversation, as opposed to simply nodding and quickly dodging into your office.
I’ll discuss this topic more as time goes on, but wanted to touch on it a little tonight. We should always be focused on progress and flexibility in the workplace, but it needs to begin with us as leaders.