How well do you know your colleagues

I was listening to a podcast by the co-founders of The Skimm the other day. Carly Zakin and Danielle Weisberg interviewing Beth Comstock, who worked her way up from roles in marketing and corporate communications to become the first female Vice Chair of GE.

What caught my attention was that all three of these female leaders are introverts. But as one of the Skimm founders said, no one knows because she is “on” all the time at work. She believes she must be upbeat and outgoing to keep their 50 employees energized and focused on their goals. Come the weekend, she’s drained and loves curling up on her couch to read or watch TV to restore her energy.

I wondered about how the introverts on her team might feel if she weren’t “on” all the time. Would they open up differently to her? Be able to be more of themselves?

Beth understood what she meant because she extroverts at work, too. She learned through her career to speak up clearly, to make points succinctly, and what she found really paid off was to take the lead on things others didn’t want to do. She loves her quiet time to recharge.

That combo – giving your all at work and recharging with quiet time – is what many of the leaders I’ve worked with and interviewed do. They say many people at work have no idea they are introverts. They flex their style to be more extroverted as needed, depending on the situation and people involved. They are so good at it everyone thinks they are naturally outgoing. Only those who know them well know their need for quiet time to refuel.

One of my mentees, a manager at an international company, wanted to get to know her peers better because they were operating in silos, too busy to connect beyond necessities. She’s an introvert and wants to speak up more in meetings. She decided to interview her peers. One of her questions was about how they refuel at the end of a long day or week at work. (One of my fav questions when I interview leaders.) She was tickled to learn they do some of the same things, and like some of the same TV shows. Now they have something in common to talk about, and it has strengthened their connection. She talked about speaking up at staff meetings and they agreed to draw her into conversations and give her feedback afterwards. She’s thrilled with these new connections.

It’s valuable to know what your colleagues are really like. You may be surprised that some of the more outgoing ones are natural introverts. If you want to know the real distinction between extrovert and introvert, ask how they refuel. You may be surprised at what you learn.

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