I attended one of those milestone high school class reunions last night. Let’s say I was anxious about going to see a group of people that I have had no contact with since I left the last class reunion 15 years ago.
As a class officer, I had reached out to the reunion committee to let them know that I would be happy to be a master of ceremonies. I knew that making a commitment to be there would help me to show up. For years, I did the morning announcements at school, excelled in the speech and debate club, and was the English department award recipient of the bunch. Everyone knew of me or knew my voice, which gave me some security.
The committee did reach out to me to see if I would do a welcome after dinner was served, and perhaps lead the group in making introductions. I was told that “no one on the committee can speak in front of groups”, and that they were all introverts. So my introverted self said no problem.
Let’s be clear, introverts are often overlooked and misunderstood
Many systems, workplaces and their cultures are built around extroverts. We are all too busy in our too busy places of work and life to give introverts the time to think through things before we want them to respond. We don’t have time to put out agendas before meetings to give introverts time to read it and think through what is being discussed and how they can contribute. We hold pop up brainstorming meetings where the extroverts will naturally dominate. Facilitators don’t stick to agenda and time-frames because we don’t want to cut extroverts off that go off topic, or never stay on topic in the first place. I don’t like to interrupt, but often find I cannot get a word in unless I do.
It’s my mission to show that introverts can be great communicators. When we know our subject matter, we can be maestros in delivering dynamite trainings. We can be inspirational speakers, and great facilitators, great actors and most importantly, probably the best leaders.
When an introvert opens their mouth to join the dialogue, listen. They have thought about what they are going to say, and have something important to offer the world. They generally don’t think as they speak.
I had a great time at the reunion. I loved reconnecting with everyone, and I made a point to connect with each person there. I intentionally talked about being an introvert and said that there were no rules for introductions. Of course, the extroverts standing took the lead. Everyone participated when they were ready. Some said too much, some very little. But in the end, this introvert could create an atmosphere of caring and acceptance, to make everyone feel special and happy that they showed up. It’s too bad that some had to wait many decades for this group of people they grew up with to allow them to be who they really are, to be listened to, to have the spotlight, and to literally applaud their contributions.
Introversion and extroversion is all about where you get your energy
Introverts generally have a tendency to be more sensitive to stimulation (noise, barking dogs, crowds of people, etc.). I know after a night like this, the best thing I need to do is to be by myself to gain back some energy and recharge. We all have challenges in managing our energy, but in very different ways. Introversion and extroversion lies on opposite ends of a continuum, and we are introverts or extroverts by varying degrees. It affects the way we communicate to others. It affects the way we see the world. It is something that can change over time, through the many phases of our life.
I am not as introverted as I used to be. Those pictures of me crying and screaming at my 2 year old birthday party or sitting on Santa’s lap, would be a good indicator I was over stimulated. The picture of me using my doll only as a prop for being by myself and reading my book would be another indicator of being an introvert who just wanted to be left alone.
The beauty of it all is that we can still all learn how to be great leaders. We can learn how to focus on each other’s strengths and personalities, while being mindful of our natural tendencies. The world demands that we must learn how to live with diversity. We must learn how to adopt our communication style and personality style to best meet the needs of others. We must create work environments and cultures that allow all people to thrive and be fully present and be heard. We can learn to listen more, to establish clarity, because my friend, despite all of this, we are still more alike than we are unalike.
Cindy Biggs is a leadership development expert working as a certified coach, mentor, and trainer. She started her encore career in 2012, as President of C. Biggs and Associates (www.SEEBIGG.com) after making a commitment to follow her dreams to be an entrepreneur and focus her top leadership strengths. She was CEO of Planned Parenthood of NC Ohio, based in Mansfield, for 20 years and VP of Organizational Development for 5 years after architecting a 5-way merger in NE Ohio with 4 other women to create a large, regional non-profit, Planned Parenthood of NE Ohio in Akron. Her volunteer work focuses on women’s empowerment and leadership development with nonprofits, including Central America Medical Outreach in Santa Rosa de Copan and the League of Women Voters. She lives in Wooster and Howard with her husband Jeff and cat Colt.