Guest Blogger Heather Hall's journey to authenticity and confidence is inspiring!
One fascinating aspect of the guest blogs that Steve Friedman has curated for BeyondIntroversion.com this year is learning about the inner world of other introverts and how that shaped the way they show up in the world at large. We grow up cultivating curiosity and imagination. Most of us find we’re good students – at least in one or two subjects – and we dive into our studies for the sake of learning. Although we may find ourselves in the same careers as extroverts, our motivation and manner of interacting with the world differ from our extroverted colleagues.
Driven by Curiosity and Details
I knew I wanted to be a scientist from an early age. Like all children, I was born curious. Where others might be shamed to “mind your own business,” I never lost the art of awkward questions. Ever analytical, I loved problem-solving, research, and collecting things – especially seashells. (In addition to local finds, I collected museum-quality specimens, could tell you both their common & scientific names, where they were found, and describe their environment.) And my uncle, who was a marine biologist, worked in a cool lab and got to go out on a boat to collect samples. My love for the Chesapeake Bay shaped the course of my life, even though I had no strong desire to travel.
Although graduate school introduced me to the inevitable torture of networking and public speaking, I was happy in the lab. There were hypotheses to test and comfort to be found in knowledge. There was no pressure to socialize and my quiet independence was encouraged.
"Be More Outgoing"
In my mid-20s, I learned about introversion during a professional development program on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). I didn’t know much about psychology – or people in general – but I appreciated the variation on each scale and felt a little relieved to know that I was in good company.
It wasn’t until I left academia that I realized being an introvert could have a negative impact on my career.
I briefly held a technical sales role, introducing a new technology to environmental scientists. The small company I worked for usually hired experienced sales reps for their clinical department and my methodical manner of building 1:1 relationships wasn’t fast enough for my boss. He repeatedly encouraged me to “be more outgoing” like my colleagues. After I moved on, he was surprised to have so many clients call for me.
Introverts are deep listeners who build strong relationships and loyal fans. We are often the “go to” resource for clients and colleagues. And, once they get to know, like and trust us, they seek our input because they realize we’ve given the topic a great deal of thought.
While I refused to adapt to the extroverted model, I had noticed that the world works in teams, and I realized that my self-reliant approach was only going to take me so far. So, when I interviewed for my first corporate role and was asked the familiar question about strengths and weaknesses, I shared that my strength was my independence and – even though I hadn’t worked on a team – it was my goal to learn how and become an effective team member.
That job was for a large, commercial laboratory. While many of my colleagues were also introverts, my managers were clearly extroverted and they expected someone in my client-facing role to be bold, energetic, and outgoing. I excelled at being competent, resourceful, and proactive, but I constantly felt like I didn’t measure up. I was comfortable greeting a client at our office, discussing their data, and supporting their project. But when it came to professional gatherings, either in their office or at conferences, I reverted to being the wallflower.
Back then, I understood I was observing and cataloging everything, but I didn’t know how to step up and I believed I wasn’t supposed to stand out. My manner of interacting – even before my leadership journey – was always supportive, proactive, and behind the scenes. I recall learning about “servant leaders” and recognizing that’s what I do: I support others without requiring prompting or praise.
Like most introverts, I found it was easier to speak up for others. I can remember stepping out of my comfort zone to mediate a problem in the classroom when I was a high school junior. Although I never discussed politics or religion, I would find myself spontaneously speaking up when I witnessed injustices. And, in the workplace, I was quick to point out where a policy, procedure or practice was inaccurate or created a problem.
As introverts, we see things others don’t. We’re aware of what’s there – especially patterns and possibilities. We notice what’s missing and how those gaps impact the whole. And we have this innate ability to foresee the consequences of a decision.
Once I knew enough that I felt competent in my new career – which meant learning a lot of chemistry and environmental regulations, as well as the lab’s information management system – my analytical mind was constantly critiquing projects and people. I was no longer the meek student. However, when I did speak up, I lacked the social graces to offer constructive criticism. Fortunately, my managers saw my potential and were patient with me. I have often wondered what would have happened to my career if I’d been written off as a “toxic employee” before I embraced my leadership journey.
When I was able to convey our clients’ needs – without my own judgment, frustration or hesitation – I began to realize that I had valuable insights to share. By tapping into my introverted superpowers of observation and perspective, and learning how to collaborate and communicate effectively, I realized I could be seen and heard in a way that made a difference. I started getting recognized and rewarded for helping both our clients and my colleagues. From there, I was given more projects and opportunities to lead, which led to promotions.
My Board of Directors
In my mind, this is where my leadership journey began. After years of working against others, I finally felt understood and impactful. In hindsight, the biggest shift I made was from observing and criticizing to participating and collaborating.
I studied how other leaders show up, testing and adapting what was authentic for me. I made mistakes along the way, but owned and grew from the lessons learned. Of course, I read a lot of books about leadership, too!
I also adopted what I like to call my “Board of Directors.” These informal mentors are individuals who broaden my perspective, share their insights and recommendations without attachment, and encourage me to become more than I knew I could be.
Most importantly, I found ways to embrace my secret superpowers, honor my story, and live success on my own terms.
After more than two decades of environmental service, and several years volunteering with community organizations, I realized what I loved most about my work in the world was helping others to find and raise their voice & values to bring their ideas & vision to life.
Leaving the corporate world to become a leadership coach meant shifting from employee to entrepreneur; a transition that raised new challenges with visibility & vulnerability, but that’s a story for another blog. For now, let me leave you with three questions for reflection:
What are your introverted superpowers?
How has each of them helped you to excel at what you do?
Where (or when) do you find you need your superpowers the most?
Guest Bio - Heather Hall
Heather L Hall is a Leadership Coach, Speaker, Facilitator, and Author of Step Up and Stand Out: 20 Tips for Aspiring Introverted Leaders. She helps quiet leaders, and those who lead them, raise their voices, share their ideas, and contribute in ways that lead to success – for themselves and their organizations.
To learn more, go to DiscoverWithHeather.com or reach out via LinkedIn, Instagram or Facebook.
Take Our 3 Eye-Opening Quizzes Today
Phases of Introversion
What phase are you in and how can you accelerate toward Contentment and Flourishing?
Introvert Talent (Superpowers)
What are your greatest introvert strengths and how can you use them at work, at home, and socially?
Are you applying your strengths to be an authentic and confident leader?
Each quiz is quick, free, confidential, and includes instant results with helpful, customized insights just for YOU!
Don't Miss a Weekly Blog
Subscribe to BeyondIntroversion today and receive my FREE 100-page Booklet,
The Questions Introverts Ponder and The Answers Extroverts Need to Hear
Subscribers also get free access to quizzes, other resources, and a monthly newsletter. Don't worry, I never pass your email address to others, I don't send spam, and you can cancel anytime.
The Questions Introverts Ponder
The Answers Extroverts Need to Hear
Introversion often feels so alone; many assume no one else could feel this way. This book contains many of the questions that have been asked, often by introverts trying to understand this personality trait that can at times govern our lives.
I also hear from many introverts struggling to share their introversion with family, friends, and co-workers, either out of fear or just not having the words. This booklet can serve to educate others to understand better the many strengths and talents we have to share.
I hope you will find this booklet an informative read and reference book with a splash of light-heartedness and inspiration as well. I invite you to start with the questions you are most curious about and share them from there.
Our 2023 monthly Writer's Series continues next week.
This month we tackle 'Getting Done' - what to do after you've written the initial manuscript.
We'll detail types of editing and covers and interiors so your project is ready for publishing.