By: Magda Lenartowicz
“You need to be more confident” has been the mainstay of feedback I’ve gotten from various people over the years. The problem is, I don’t FEEL a lack of confidence internally — but apparently I come across as such externally. Much of this perception is likely due to the insane physiological reaction I get when I become the center of attention — voice shaking, palms sweating, heart beating. The works!
Yet, I do not feel afraid in my head. It never made sense, and it drove me nuts. (It still does by the way — just less.)
I bought all the required books, but nothing much stuck until I read “Quiet” by Susan Cain. Being an introvert wasn’t new to me, although many people around me didn’t believe that I was one. I fit almost every single criterion in that book, and what it made clear to me was that, although I was an introvert, I wasn’t necessarily shy, and there was a difference.
What shyness I had was really leftover social anxiety from adults telling me all my childhood: “Be polite, be quiet, be still.” The adage, “Children should be seen, but not heard” was the epitome of my growing up. I was never encouraged to be physical, to play games, or to interact with others in a boisterous way.
[Related: How I (Finally) Escaped the Confidence Trap]
So I started thinking about my introverted approach to things, and the ways in which people saw me. I decided to ditch my usual negative self-talk, and focus on the positive adjectives I’ve heard used about me, the words that I heard over and over again.
Unfortunately, the word that came up most often was…thoughtful. “Now there is a power word for you,” I thought.
I didn’t want to be thoughtful. I wanted to be the type of leader I saw my role models to be — assertive, social, collaborative, idea-driven, and unafraid. “Thoughtful” was not in that category, and seemed to have zero value in my quest for the chance to prove myself as a leader. The other word that I often heard was “sensitive,” which obviously wasn’t much better.
You know how sometimes the greatest growth and best ideas come through a chance encounter with a stranger? Well this happened when I had a conversation with a career coach — not even my own career coach, yet I came away from that event somewhat transformed.
I realized that by minimizing and ignoring one of my greatest strengths, the sense of empathy and connection to other people, I was overlooking the fuel that could get me where I wanted to be. I embarked upon the path of discovery of what it meant to me to be a thoughtful leader and a thoughtful person.
[Related: Do You Really Know What Makes a Good CEO?]
We often hear that good leaders are authentic. I think there is something to that, and that they are not just words thrown around by self-help gurus. I am still discovering what gifts my thoughtfulness holds, but here are a few to help you along the way to utilizing this particular, wonderful gift:
- Thoughtfulness allows for the space to see and hear the other person, to not interrupt or interpret their words. This makes you a great listener.
- Thoughtfulness makes it easier to deal with conflict, even when it’s hard to do so. Your communication becomes constructive and clear, but not hurtful or personal.
- Thoughtfulness means that you know how to be in the moment. You can actually be more spontaneous and adjust quickly to unexpected situations.
- Thoughtfulness allows for better judgment of motivations and character. You pick up subtle cues of body language and inflection easily.
- Thoughtfulness is a great aid for presentations. You adjust to the temperature and mood of the room.
- Thoughtfulness means you are okay with taking your time. Solving things at another meeting or taking a few days to think it over are not anathema.
Thoughtful does not equal slow, stodgy, unimaginative, or not driven. It means you can close any deal, any sale, and do it with quiet flair in the process.
I would love to hear your stories of how being quiet, thoughtful, sensitive, and deliberate (or any other “unpopular” adjective) has helped you along your way in finding the career path that is truly authentic to you.
Dr. Magda Lenartowicz is a passionate physician specializing in the care of older adults. She has been building her leadership skills as an outspoken introvert and enjoys helping others embrace their unique strengths.
Originally published at www.ellevatenetwork.com.