Leadership Challenges for Introverts

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.

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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.

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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.

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-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.

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Therefore, I know I have to make the effort to smile, even if it ends up looking like this most of the time:

Uhh…hey guys…

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.

Any thoughts?

-KP

The Rose That Grew From Concrete

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For the past few years, I have written a New Year’s Reflections post because I think it is important to look back on how we have changed and grown in that time period (the 365 days itself is arbitrary, but it serves its purpose as a unit to measure ourselves).  This year, however, I was seriously considering not doing one because of how difficult the year had been, and how many failures I seemed to continuously come by.  However, after thinking it over, I realized, as a writer, it would be wrong to do so, because writing isn’t necessarily about sharing happy endings (if it was, Hemingway would’ve been out of a job).   It’s about trying to express some sort of truth we have come to know through personal experience, and about connecting with others.  Sadness, loss, change, and death are all parts of our human condition.  I had many ideas about how I wanted to do this entry, spanning from comedy to discussion about major world events.  I’ve decided, however, to just share some simple thoughts and reflections.

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Late January last year I ended a painful relationship, and in a sense most of my major growth this year stemmed from that ending.  I learned that I was not the exception to the rule, and that I was not going to be exempt in life from the lessons that we are forced to learn when relationships don’t work out.  I was pulled into a very bad place due to the vacuum that sprung from its collapse, and I had some very dark days.  Thankfully, my family and my friends came to my aid, and honestly, most of that was just them being there to listen.  The friends who let us cry as much as we need to, who watch us pity ourselves, the ones who see us continually make mistakes and fall, but do not walk away from us: those are the friends who will never waiver in their devotion to us. We do not see the strength of the bonds of friendship and love in the everyday mundane; rather, we see them in the dark times, when we are at our weakest and most pathetic.

I learned that nothing in this life lasts forever, not even the excruciating pain of infidelity and shattered ideals, although for a long time I never thought it would end, and I blamed myself for everything that had transpired.  I lost weight, I exercised furiously, trying to “make myself better.”  I had to be prettier, I had to be thinner, I had to be better.  A voice inside repeated to me: I wasn’t good enough.  I deserved to be treated the way I did because I wasn’t good enough.  I was too demanding, I came with stipulations.  It was all. my. fault.

Those are some of the thoughts that plagued me for months on end.  Jealousy, anger, fear, and sadness made homes for themselves in the broken places of my heart.  It was the complete loss of self in despair.  I went to a very, very dark place.  I wish I could say that I had a magic “ah-ha,” moment (well, in a sense, my run-in with Crazy Internet Mike DID help a few lightbulbs go off, oh Hey Mike!), but really, it was just the passage of time that allowed me to get to the point where I am now.  I also wish that I could now say, on this first day of the New Year, everything in my life is all better, magically fixed by some cosmic super glue.  I can say, however, that I am not in the place that I was five months ago, and that only through this hurt did I experience the true depths of love from others and the true meaning of compassion.

I can also say that I am finally at a place where I recognize the truth that relationships are hard, and oftentimes people will hurt us along the path.  People are complex, and like I discussed in a previous post, In Dreams Begin Responsibilities, not everyone views reality in the same manner, and just as they are under no obligation to treat us with dignity and respect, we are under no obligation to keep them in our lives.  I think many of us become hung up on the idea that those who hurt us deserve to experience the “karma” of their actions.  We need to let go of this flawed idea.  In his book Hogfather, author Terry Pratchett writes:

…take the universe and grind it down to the finest powder and sieve it through the finest sieve and then show me one atom of justice, one molecule of mercy.  And yet you act, like there was some sort of rightness in the universe by which it may be judged.

We have no business “waiting on karma” for the other person.  What occurs in our lives, versus what happens in our former significant others’ lives are two completely separate and unrelated things.  We must cut ties so as not to constantly compare our journey with theirs.  You aren’t weak for cutting ties; you are strong in that you recognize the path to self-recovery.  

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I want to say, THANK YOU, to Natalie Lue over at Baggage Reclaim; without her words of wisdom I would have not come to peace with myself.  We must always remain true to ourselves and to our morals and boundaries.  If people challenge those, it’s time to say, “So long!”  Remember, how people treat you is a reflection of who THEY are; not who YOU are.

I chose the Rose that Grew from Concrete by Tupac (one of his poems) as the theme for the entry because the idea of something beautiful coming from an impossible place is how I want to enter 2015.  The idea that life can still flourish in difficult situations is one that I want to hold dear for the next 365 days.

I hope 2015 brings peace to us all.  Weirdmaste, my friends

-KP

Purgatory is only Temporary.

Today I spoke with a very close friend of mine, and we had a long talk about some of the issues we both face.  I am not ready to share with the world some of my deep, dark secrets, because I don’t feel comfortable revealing that side of myself just yet, but some of what we talked about was about relationships.  We talked about how work has had me traveling for months and how it has felt like the echoes of my last relationship have been heard loudly everywhere.

K said to me, “It’s like you were in Purgatory.”

And she was right.

 

Neil Gaiman says it best, “I think hell is something you carry with you.  Not somewhere you go.”  I have never had such a jarring emotional experience of that magnitude before in my life; maybe some people can brush this sort of thing off easily.  But for those unfortunate, overly-introspective types like myself, it’s not that easy.  I still, months later, ask myself what I could have done to have been enough.  I know, rationally, the answer to this question is simple: NOTHING.  People who want you to be part of your life make you a priority.  They don’t push you away, they don’t disrespect you by being dishonest and secretive.  It doesn’t make this any easier to swallow, and we still beat ourselves up because of their betrayal.  Even as time passes, in the words of the late Maya Angelou, “People will never forget how you made them feel.”

 

The pain is still there and I know it will be there for a long time to come, but I also know that Purgatory is only temporary, and now I am here in Hawaii to start a new life, and the ghost of the man from my past can not come to these shores to haunt me.  This is a place of healing, and I concentrate on trying to let go of the hell I have carried within me for so long.

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For anyone out there going through something similar…if you don’t think it will end…I understand.  It’s not over for me, but I can finally see the beginnings of the road to healing.  The pain lasts a long time, but we don’t have to be buried under it forever.  There are still beautiful things to be seen, and we can find an abundance of kindness and goodness in the people who continue to stand by us and support us.  Our worth is not defined by those who have treated us badly, or the poor relationships we once were part of.  

 

Our worth was and always will be determined by ourselves.

 

It is Well with my Soul

I recently finished Dr. Terry Gordon’s book, No Storm Lasts Forever, a diary he kept throughout the first few months following a tragic accident that left his son Tyler paralyzed.  Dr. Gordon is one of those rare individuals who can draw insight and wisdom from life where many see nothing but random occurrence.  Although my storm is very different, and not in any way comparable to Dr. Gordon’s, it is still a loss, and it has caused me to experience the various stages of grief.  When we experience loss, it opens up a void within us that can become susceptible to negative thoughts and emotions.  I myself am a victim of this, and recently have been plagued with my own fears and self-doubts and questioning of my path entirely.  I do know that ultimately it all comes down to this: we must be the heroes of our own stories in order to save ourselves and come to peace.

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In 1873, a man named Horatio Spafford decided to send his wife and their four daughters on a trip to Europe.  They were to sail ahead of him, as he had to deal with the aftermath of real estate investments that had been destroyed in the Chicago fire of 1871.  Tragically, the ocean liner his wife and children were on collided with another vessel and sank.  His wife survived, and from England sent her husband a telegram that said, “Saved alone.”  Spafford then sailed to England to meet her, and as his vessel passed the place where his four daughters had passed, he penned the words:

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

Loss is so painful to deal with; and as I journey through these days and weeks I can see that although I may be training my physical body to become strong, I have been neglecting my mind.  There is a psychological term called, “rumination,” in which we let our worries overcome us.  We must be strong and not let ourselves be sucked into the vacuum of despair.  In the words of Plato, “For a man to conquer himself is the first and noblest of all victories.”  We either come to terms with our respective lots or we are destroyed by our own sorrows and insecurities.  And in destroying ourselves, we destroy others along with us.  I wonder what sort of world this would be if every man was able to come to terms with his own demons.  I imagine there would be so much less suffering.

Finally, to close with some wise words from Rafiki:

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Finding a Higher Purpose

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Today I started day one of my fitness project, under the training supervision of fitness pro, Kim Oddo.  I was referred by a classmate of mine to him, and after receiving my nutrition and fitness plan, I was expecting some of what he put together, but also surprised at some of the restrictions.  The interesting thing about nutrition is that for each person there are minute details which can be tweaked.  His plan goes down to each meal in detail, calories are overall most important for the day, but it is not as simple as just that.  I am allowed to swap out certain foods for like foods, but sadly, I can not consume 1500 calories of Peanut Butter and Nutella (although how amazing would that be?!) and call it a day.  Although I completed my marathon back in November, I can’t say that I was consuming the right kind of foods.  I think protein rarely made an appearance in my diet while I was living in Japan, which is really not a good thing, considering how important it is for overall health (and muscle growth).  If I had been taking in the right foods, I really have to wonder how much better I would have performed on my training runs and on race day.

Over the past few months it has been difficult dealing with the aftermath of my failed relationship.  I’ve been reading a few different books over the timespan to help me through the grieving process, to understand what went wrong, to recognize the signs of a toxic person, and most importantly, to once again find my higher purpose.   I recently began Richard Bach’s classic, Jonathan Livingston Seagull.  I am still working through the book, but the basic premise is that we need to do what we believe in, regardless of whether it is what everyone else is doing, if we think that it will lead to our purpose in life.  When I was in my relationship, I thought my highest purpose was to love my significant other, but I noticed I began neglecting myself.  When the relationship ended I was left with a massive void where that love once was; it felt like a vacuum.  I thought: What is there for me if this person is now gone from my life?  What other purpose could I possibly have if not to love him?  Although I am still working through these emotions, I truly believe it is the love of oneself.  Author Jo Coudert puts it perfectly in her book, Advice from a Failure:

You do not need to be loved, not at the cost of yourself.  The single relationship that is truly central and crucial in a life is the relationship to the Self.  Of all the people you will know in a lifetime, you are the only one you will never lose.  

I think of the Alanis Morissette song, Underneath, where she sings:

There is no difference in what we’re doing in here
That doesn’t show up as bigger symptoms out there

What we do within, for ourselves, how we feel about ourselves, manifests in the world.  And it is so hard to feel good or to feel okay when somebody abandons us, but we must ultimately accept what their choices were, and realize it is not about us. 

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My fitness project, along with the increase in my writing, are ways that I am trying to regain what I felt called toward once before.  Seeing internal strength, willpower, and dedication manifested as physical strength.  BEING MY BEST SELF.  That is what my higher purpose is.

 

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Only Human

It has been quite some time, and much has changed.

My job is transferring me to Hawaii, and I have a few months of training along the way.  It’s going to be a coast-to-coast adventure in America, starting from beautiful Northern Washington and ending up in Florida.  I will look out on to the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans before June arrives.

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Although 2014 brings many promises of new beginnings, it unfortunately began on a very sad note for me.  My relationship ended in a very painful manner, and I never imagined I’d be writing an entry like this, but heartbreak feels like the equivalent of being sick with some kind of total body illness, it really does.  Regardless of whether it is you or the other person who ends it (for me, I was the one who ended it), it is horrible.  Ultimately for me, it came down to what I felt was settling in the relationship and accepting behavior that was very much not okay.  It still seeps deep into the core and unfortunately only the passage of time will heal what has been damaged.

It really made me start to think about how different people perceived love; or rather, what they thought was love.  The same man who said “I love you,” to my face was, behind my back, telling someone else how he wished he “could hold her all night.”  For any couple in a healthy monogamous relationship, this is not acceptable.  For people in polyamorous or open relationships, I can not speak, but I would assume that in those relationships, in order for them to be healthy, all parties must agree to whatever stipulations (and I would imagine there would be a good deal of communication involved).  I really do believe that for different people, different types of relationships work.  However, it is WRONG for one person to be covert and hide something from the other person when they are under the impression no such thing is going on.  That is cheating, in one of its many forms.

It saddens me to know that, at the end of my relationship, instead of being sincerely sorry for doing something that was wrong and hurt me a good deal, the man I was with was angry because he felt I had invaded his privacy and did not trust him; however, it was his behavior that prevented me from fully being able to do so.  The spectrum of human behavior is fascinating and terrifying all at once; whereas some of us are staunchly opposed to the idea of such behavior in relationships, others have no qualms engaging in it.  On some level these individuals must have issues with commitment and cannot enter the relationship both feet fully in.  Nevertheless, it does not take away from the hurt we feel when we cross paths with someone of that nature.

I think of Mary Oliver’s quote:

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The Sun Will Rise (Welcoming in the New Year)

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Happy New Year!  I have been a terrible writer this past year.  I have barely written at all, so first and foremost, one of my New Year’s resolutions will be to write more!  

I can’t believe 2013 has ended already.  So much in my life is changing; I’m getting transferred to Hawaii for my job and will be also working out of Okinawa.  My apartment looks like it’s been ransacked due to packing up all my belongings.  As I look back over my pictures from the year I am reminded of all the things I accomplished and was able to experience.  I did quite a bit of traveling, both locally and abroad.  I went to mainland China and Hong Kong, visited Kyoto twice, caught up with high school friends from my time in Shizuoka, ran my first sprint triathlon and first full marathon, and secured a competitive and coveted position at work.  I met a good deal of people, made some new friendships, rekindled some old, and entered into a relationship.

2013 was a year that allowed for growth; there were some truly positive moments (being selected from a large pool of candidates for a very competitive position, crossing the finish line at the Mount Fuji Marathon), and there were also some very difficult times, regarding friendships, relationships, work, and life in general.

I was skyping with my mom recently and I was talking about some of the difficulties I was dealing with in regard to certain relationships and I think the overall sentiment for the New Year will be her advice:

Do good and have faith that good things will happen to you.

So my New Year’s resolutions are as follows:

1. Write more.

2. Be a more dependable person.

3. Be better at keeping constant communication with friends and family.

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Two years ago I found a local shrine near my home that was up a small hill; the pathway was illuminated by lanterns.  After walking past the main shrine area a bit there was an opening and I could see out across the bay to Yokosuka, Yokohama, and Tokyo.  I could see the ships sitting there, too.  The lights shimmered against the darkness of the night and I remembered the opening of Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God:

“Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board. For some they come in with the tide. For others they sail forever on the same horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by Time.”

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I looked out on to the black ocean as a child, watching the ships sit against the horizon in the night, and I looked out on to that same darkness this night and thought of how my life has changed over the past two and a half years.  Although I am proud of the person I am continuing to grow into, I do not forget that it has taken some very difficult lessons.  

Here’s to another bountiful year!