Reign like Obama: 5 career-climbing tips for introverts

My name is Mildred Talabi and I am an introvert.

There. I said it.

It’s taken me the best part of my adult life to figure this out and longer still to embrace it. Why? Because if you’ve ever been in any school or work environment, you’ll know that being “quiet” is not cool.

No, worse than not cool, it’s actually frowned upon and you’re swiftly labelled as dull, boring or simply anti-social.

And so I grew up wanting to be louder, trying to be louder – caught between resenting extroverts on one hand and badly wanting to be like them on the other.

Like most introverts (and that’s apparently one in three people), there were often times when I felt like society simply wasn’t designed with people like me in mind – you only need to look at reality TV shows like The Apprentice to see that he who shouts the loudest is often the one that is heard the most.

But the truth is introverts are just as great as extroverts – some of the world’s most famous people in our time and in history have been introverts – including the current US President, Barack Obama – but yet many people still hold grave career-hindering misconceptions about introverts.

5 common misconceptions about introverts

1) Introverts are shy

There is a HUGE difference between being shy and being an introvert, even though it looks the same on the outside. Shyness is a fear, a feeling of apprehension, discomfort and awkwardness that arises from being around other people; introversion, on the other hand, is a preference not to speak or interact with other people all the time.

Skydiving - fun haven for some extroverts

Introverts like to have fun just as much as the next extrovert – it just might look a little different

Introverts generally do not like to talk unless they have something to say, whereas a shy person may want to talk but is afraid to do so.

2) Introverts are boring

Introverts like to have fun just as much as the next extrovert, but our idea of fun is different and often not the accepted social norm.

An introvert may prefer a movie night in with close friends to a house party full of loud and rowdy strangers; or curling up with a good book on the sofa than yakking on the phone for an hour about the latest episode of Desperate Housewives – it’s still fun, just different.

3) Introverts don’t like people

Most introverts actually really do like people but we also enjoy our own company very much, whereas extroverts practically live off the energy buzz generated by being around people all the time. Introverts also generally prefer small groups to large crowds and a handful of close intimate friends to an address book full of half-baked acquaintances.

4) Introverts make bad sales people

You can replace ‘sales’ with any other public-facing role you like and it still wouldn’t be the truth. At the sake of repeating point number three, introverts can in fact thrive in environments which involve lots of contact with people – we just simply need time in between or afterwards to recharge our batteries! The best sales people are good listeners – which of course is easier to do if you’re not talking all the time – and that is right in the forté of introverts.

5) Introverts secretly want to be extroverts

Thanks to the largely extrovert-biased society we live in, introverts do feel the pressure to try and adopt extrovert tendencies but truth be told, if introverts were truly celebrated and liberated to operate in their natural temperament, most will jump at the chance to just be themselves.

The Power of Introverts

I can spend longer giving you more reasons why introverts are great, but it’s much easier to watch this brilliant Ted talk by Susan Cain on ‘The Power of Introverts’.

So how can you harness your introvert nature to climb the career ladder?

President Obama is a shining example of the great heights introverts can climb, so here are five tips to help you scale the career ladder and reign like Obama in your own work life:

1) Learn public speaking

If you had told the skinny, shy and introverted little girl that I was that one day I would be going from universities to conferences delivering talks, seminars and workshops to large groups of people for a living, I would have laughed in your face* and called you a liar! (*actually, more accurately, I probably would have laughed and did the liar thing once you had gone)

Speaking in public

Learning how to speak in public is one of the best things you can do for your career (here’s me kicking introversion to the kerb and delivering a CV workshop)

One of the great myths of public speaking is that you either have ‘the gift’ or you don’t, but this is simply not true – being able to speak in public is a skill that can be learnt, and a muscle that can be developed through use. I recommend joining a Toastmasters club near you and you will be amazed at just how much you’ll improve in this area if you stick at it.

2) Learn to network – get out of your comfort zone

I used to make myself go to networking events alone so I would be forced out of my comfort zone and into interaction with other people. This was an even more important torture exercise on days when I really didn’t feel like it and would have loved nothing better than to sit at home with tea, crackers and an episode of Murder She Wrote.

The old adage, “It’s not what you know, but who you know” still rings true today so it’s important to get out there and build those vital relationships that could help propel your career in future.

3) Learn how to sell

Robert Kiyosaki, the bestselling author of Rich Dad Poor Dad, was once asked by a journalist to share his top tips for becoming a great writer. Kiyosaki’s answer was simple: “Learn to sell”.

Sensing the writer’s agitation at this seemingly irrelevant answer, Kiyosaki pointed out that he was a ‘best selling’ author, not a ‘best writing’ author!

The secret of Kiyosaki’s success – and that of many others in various fields – is mastering the art of sales. Selling isn’t just important for entreprenuers and business people, if you want to succeed in today’s highly competitive job market, it’s absolutely essential that you learn to sell yourself on paper in your CVscover letters and application forms, and in person at job interviews.

Read books on selling and enrol on a course if you have to, and then practice getting better at this for the rest of your life – it will serve you well.

Know your strengths

A prerequisite to being able to sell yourself is to know your strengths and play to them

4) Know your strengths and play to them 

A prerequisite to being able to sell yourself is to know your strengths and play to them.

Introverts are often strong-minded people, good at listening, problem-solving, and exuding calmness and confidence in moments of crisis.

Of course, all introverts are not the same so it’s important to discover your own unique strengths and play to them in and out of the work place in order to progress.

5) Accept who you are and how you are

Even though it’s important to add skills like public speaking, networking and sales to your repertoire, what you don’t want is to end up in a career where you are forced to do things that are second nature to you on a regular basis – this will eventually take its toll and may lead to stress, burnout or more serious consequences.

Accepting who you are and how you are is probably the most difficult of obstacles to overcome, but once you learn to do this, you can truly start to harness your introvert nature as a strength, rather than a weakness.

One final myth…

One final myth to debunk is that introverts and extroverts don’t get on – in fact, it’s quite the opposite! Introvert and extrovert partnerships can be the best combination of all because what you end up with is a balance of strengths and weaknesses which works together for the greater good.

I’m happily married to an extrovert who can talk for England (literally) so I can personally testify to this 🙂

Your turn: What’s your experience of being an introvert or dealing with introverts in the work place? Let me know in the comments…

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Photo credits: Barack ObamaWoody H1 & The World According To Marty via photopin cc