The Introverted Leader

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What is an introvert? Dictionary.com describes it as a shy person, or a person primarily concerned with their own thought and feelings. I fit that description pretty well. I have always been “in my own head” and not that interested in being part of a group; a difficult place to be if you are in the fire service. I find that time alone is some of my best time and that limiting my interaction with the outside world helps me stay relaxed and calm. I enjoy time with friends and loved ones but I try to limit that time as it drains most of my energy.

Introverts are know to be great readers, thinkers and philosophers. I do not enjoy reading books because they make me sleepy but I do enjoy blogs and articles. I also enjoy videos and visual learning. I take the most away from those forms of information. I spend a great deal of time on social media but I can admit that I don’t enjoy Twitter. The character limitation seems to restrict the use of grammar and stifles the beauty of the English language. I’m not saying that Facebook and YouTube are any better but I enjoy them more due to the ability to explore content.

So I found myself thinking about leadership on my way home after my shift this morning. I started reflecting on what kind of leadership I had provided and started thinking about something that had plagued my career throughout the length of my time as a leader. From the beginning to the end of my time as a leader, one complaint was lodged by the people who worked above and below me; “You Don’t Communicate Well Enough “or “You Play Your Cards Close To The Vest”. I heard it from my boss and I have heard it from my employees. Now there are vast amounts of material on communication and the skills there in but I want to talk more about how being an introvert affected my ability to lead and how you can possibly overcome your introversion to be a better leader.

Now, at this point, some of you are probably saying “that’s probably why you are no longer a leader”! I will give you a little truth currency on that. I admitted to myself shortly after my Chiefship (it’s my blog, I can make up words if I want to) had spiraled into the abyss of the career dead-pool that not communicating had something to do with it. I also held to the belief that my extremely busy mind was not something that I should ever fully express with those around me. My madness is not able to be explained, at least I thought it wasn’t. I didn’t think there was any value to explaining the fodder in my brain but felt that expressing the sharply honed ideas that I had about what I wanted to accomplish was more important. I expressed those ideas and didn’t feel as if I needed to have multiple group discussions about them. I said what I wanted done so go do it. Why are you still talking? More workee workee and less talkee talkee. I’m the Chief remember? Hence the feeling by those around me that I did not communicate enough. I struggled with it then and still struggle with it in my personal life.

So what can you do if you are an introvert and find yourself in a leadership position? Here are some things that I took away from my experience:

  • What you are thinking is important: Even though YOU think it is not! Don’t discount your thoughts. Those around you want all of the information or all of the idea that you have. It will make them feel more engaged in what you want to do and will give them more information to develop the project or idea in a way that you want. If you don’t give them clear direction, your team may end up off in the weeds trying to make sense of the bits and pieces of information. If they are there, it’s because you let it happen!
  • Emotion is not a bad thing: Your team needs to know that you are passionate about your ideas and more importantly that you are passionate about them! Everyone loves a pat on the back for a job well done but you need to get them fired up with the energy, heart and soul that you have used to formulate your idea. I have never been in sales but I would watch Grant Cardone videos to get myself energized about doing a project. It saddens me that I never passed that energy onto my team in most cases. moneyadvice
  • Be the leader that they want and need: As an introvert, you spend a lot of time in your own brain and space. You know what it takes to build your energy back up and what it feels like to be over exposed socially. Prepare yourself to meet with your team. Build that energy. Get charged up! They feed off of your energy, atmosphere and attitude. Be the brightest light when you meet with them and be the one with the solid idea to progress your department forward. Your white helmet implies that you are the smartest guy in the room so act like it. But don’t wear your helmet to meetings, that’s just weird.
  • Set boundaries: As I stated above, you know you better than anyone. Make sure you set clear boundaries on your time. You need the recharge time and the time alone so make it clear to everyone that you need to have some quiet time. I had an open door policy that came at an expense to me. Closing the office door for a while is not you being rude. They will wait for you to be ready if you help them understand that you need some time to recharge.
  • Take care of your brain: Every introvert has a default “thing” that they go to when they need to stop their brain from trying to solve the worlds problems. Know what your “thing” is. Also, make sure you get rest and relaxation. I know it is difficult in the fire service because we never know what the next minute will bring but try to carve out some time. I would sit outside at night and enjoy a cigar or just sit and enjoy the feeling of the fresh air filling my lungs, feeling the night air surround me. It was a much needed change from the recycled air in my office. I would also go for a “windshield tour” of my district. I would play scenarios in my head of the structure types and play out how we would lay a supply line to a certain building and try to picture how I would place apparatus if we had an incident. You should also eat right and exercise……….blah. I like chicken wings. Sue me!
  • Be ready for setbacks: Most introverts dissect things out in their heads to a staggering degree. So much  so that they have figured most of the conceivable angles by the time they present the idea to the team. Be prepared for the other members of the team to not see every angle right away. Be prepared for delayed progress as they work through the problems. You may think that you have figured out all of the ways the project could have been done but you will be surprised at what the team may come up with. They will see things you didn’t see.
  • Keep the team moving: On occasion, the teams progress may begin to slow because you have turned back into your own mind and let go of the wheel. Make sure that you are keeping track of their progress and set some clear benchmarks or time segments that they need to stick to. The younger generation grew up as gamers so time based or progress based achievements make sense to them. Put the levels of achievement out there and watch how quickly they make things happen.

This is not a complete list. The leadership leaders of the leader camps and leader workshops and in the big rooms at FDIC can give you even more information on leadership for the leaderless masses. The books out there seem to make obvious points but they are worth a read. They are from the leaders in the industry that have lead by leading and now make leaders out of leaders to lead the leaderless. So read up and learn. I fall asleep by the second chapter. If they would do books on tape with frequent AC/DC and Whitesnake interludes, I would be all over it!

Photo Credit: Neil Zlozower
Photo Credit: Neil Zlozower
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UNSPECIFIED – CIRCA 1970: Photo of ACDC Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

A reoccurring statement in most of my posts is that I am in no way professional writer. I am also not a life coach, team training expert, leadership guru or gaming expert. I simply have posed some of the things, at least in this post, that I reflected on and that I thought I could have done better.

I ended my leadership career feeling like I let the team down. I had solid ideas about progressing the department forward. Ultimately I admitted to myself that my unwillingness or inability to be a spontaneous extrovert kept me and the team from achieving our goals or at the very least kept me from expressing my ideas in their complete form. That’s my cross to bear. I will keep that in my brain vault for next time, if there is a next time. Hopefully I will be able to recall the information in the spiraling and swirling hornets nest that is my mind.

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As always, thanks for stopping by and stay safe out there!

 

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