By Tommy Mayes
Often I am surprised to hear how many public speakers and other people who have to present to large groups consider themselves to be introverts. I am also an introvert, so I thought I would share a few observations and recommend follow-up reading. Regardless of whether you are an extrovert or an introvert, you need to develop the skills and emotional intelligence to work with both.
During my junior year at Wake Forest University, I took a Psychology class and one of the only things I remember from the course is that the Myers-Briggs test informed me that I was an introvert.
During the following 20 or so years, I never really understood what this meant for me personally. However, what I did know is that serving as a highly visible executive for most of those years, I spent significant time engaging in intensely extroverted activities. In particular, I found that when I was in front of a large audience, I was very anxious ahead of the event and physically wiped out after.
About 15 years ago, my executive coach helped me realize that for an introvert, anxiety and the resulting adrenaline rush surrounding the extroverted activities were like a poison to my body. Ultimately, I developed routines and structures around which I could plan for these events and avoid the negative fallout.
According to research, as much as 50% of the population may be introverted, yet our culture assumes extroversion is required to be successful in many important roles, in both business and life. One study showed that at least 65% of senior corporate executives saw introversion as a "barrier" to leadership.
Many assume leaders, like me, are naturally extroverted. They also assume that because I am blessed with a large national relationship network that I like to be out and about with large groups of people all the time. Nothing could be further from the truth.
I am what Susan Cain refers to in her book, “Quiet,” as an ambivert, which means I can easily cross over to the other side for an event or interaction, but it also means I will be exhausted for a period afterward. I cope by planning downtime and alone time.
My wife is wired the same way, and we can sit for hours together and not say a word. The key is we understand how God made us, and we manage our time and rest accordingly.
Try this quiz to find out how you are wired!
Many also assume that to be a successful advisor or business leader, you must be extroverted. Again, nothing could be further from the truth.
It is very likely that some of the folks with whom you interact and admire are introverts at some level, who have determined how to cope in environments requiring extroversion.
I even suggest that introverts would be preferred as advisors, as they are naturally better listeners and generally calmer and more patient (I am not the latter by the way…exceptions exist everywhere!).
I recommend that both introverts and extroverts read Susan Cain’s book and watch her TED talk. I have shared this information dozens of times and given away countless copies of the book. Everyone who has absorbed the information has been grateful and felt better armed to work with a diverse community.
Self-awareness (also known as emotional intelligence, or emotional quotient (EQ)) is an essential skill to have. Awareness and understanding of those not like you is equally useful, and particularly powerful.
I welcome any feedback or comments you may have.