Leading while Black and introverted

Posted 27 August 2020 by
Melissa Summer, Global Content Marketing Manager, The Myers-Briggs Company

Jeri Bingham hosts the Hush Loudly podcast on WGN Radio in Chicago. Her podcast interviews a myriad of successful people who have preferences for Introversion about their experiences in their life and work. Recently, Jeri hosted a panel for the Chicago State Foundation titled “Leading While Black and Introverted” and The Myers-Briggs Company’s Dr. Rachel Cubas-Wilkinson started by laying the foundation for understanding personality type and Introversion.

“People with a preference for Introversion are energized by spending time in their inner worlds with their thoughts,” started Rachel. “They’re usually more selective about the number of people they spend time with and for how long, and seen by others as more private and contained. However in leadership, Introverts are still expected and have the responsibility to connect meaningfully and visibly to colleagues, reports, customers and more. So having a more contained and quiet leadership style can come across as being harder to get to know, too inhibited or low key. Or worse being seen as shy, not engaged and aloof.”

“Many of the introverted leaders I’ve worked with say their greatest challenge is how they’re perceived by others. They often feel this weight to have to boost their own visibility and manage the risk that comes with being misunderstood, and potentially even excluded from projects, teams, promotions and even from advancement.”

“Introverted leaders face a challenge to show up visibly in our work world. But they also have the opportunity to adapt creatively and flex while still honouring themselves as an Introvert.”

Following Rachel’s introduction, four leaders from around the country discussed their personal experiences of the intersectionality of their race, positions and personality preferences.

If you’re interested in watching a recording of the entire leadership panel discussion, you can find it here. With so many perspectives from leaders of different industries, pearls of wisdom, life advice and leadership expertise weren’t in short supply. Below are a few of our favourite insights from the panel’s discussion:

Professional football is probably not the first profession that comes to mind when you think about someone with introverted preferences. The expectation of behaviours includes aggressive, loud, and confrontational. In discussing having Introversion preferences in the NFL, Howard Griffith, Analyst for Big Ten Network and prior NFL running back with 2 Superbowl Championships, said “People would say  ‘you’re the moodiest running back in the league’ (because that’s the assumption they made about my introverted behaviours). I learned one of the best things to do to help people better understand me was to set expectations early. It’s important to set expectations early because otherwise people make their assumptions based on their perceptions of your behaviours.”
In terms of leadership, Griffith stressed to, “lead by example. I used to talk to janitors and arena staff the same way I’d talk to my teammates, managers, captains and team owners. I’d remind others on the team that it’s not the janitor’s job to pick up after you, and in that way my leadership style wasn’t loud, but I lead by my actions.”

Brenda Williams, President and Founder of the Russell Williams Group, said her leadership strategy is, “no unnecessary meetings. I don’t have time for useless chit chat. So I would go talk to people one on one. And of course, you have to have some meetings at times, but for an introverted leader having that conversation 1-1 goes a long way. It helps people understand how much they matter.”

Darrious Hilmon, Executive Director of the Chicago State Foundation, added, “being a Black male introvert was exhausting. You have to be aggressive but not too aggressive. Otherwise you come across badly. When you talk to people who’re White introverts, it’s not as big of a deal. But as a Black man and an Introvert, you always feel like people are reacting to you. You can see it in their face that people don’t know what to do with you.”

“What I’ve found is that the more authentic I am, the more people react positively to me. I found in the first half of my life that imposter syndrome was a big thing. Now I’m just being who I am.”

Following Darious’s comment, Brenda added, “sometimes the path that’s established for you isn’t for you. If you really know who you are, you might have to change that path to be the most true to yourself.

There are so many brilliant people who are overlooked because they look at things differently.”

Christina Steed, Executive Vice President of Flowers Communications, also isn’t afraid to do things differently and talked about how her introversion preferences affected her career and leadership path.

“My Introversion has helped me to stretch myself in ways I didn’t think I’d be doing 10 years ago. First, I was in front of the camera on a news station. But I realized I didn’t like it. I loved being behind the scenes and working on the messaging, so then I went to Public Relations. Then I wanted to try new business development, which seems like a really salesy and talkative role, but I wanted to do it my way.”

“At networking events, I’m the person in the corner drinking wine by myself. But I’d challenge myself to meet one or two new people. And that’s how I approached business development – one person at a time. Doing it my way, I’ve been able to bring blue-chip accounts to my agency. And one of those ways is because I’m a really good listener.”

“Another one of the superpowers of Introversion is being intuitive. A lot of times, people are just waiting their turn to talk. Introverts don’t just wait their turn to talk. We look at body language, we dissect what you say, and that intuition is one of our superpowers.”

Jeri, who hosted the panel, took that opportunity to comment on her own ‘different way of doing things’ as someone with introverted preferences.

“When people come into my office, my lights are always off. A calm, quiet environment is where I create and work the best. People will joke ‘are you a vampire?’ I also don’t have pictures of my family or activities in my office. Sometimes people think I don’t like them because of my more introverted behaviours. If I don’t want to be vocal in meetings, I’ll make sure my presence is heard in other ways, like sending emails afterward.”

Christina followed up on Jeri’s comment about how you’re perceived, noting that specifically for Black introverts, “those things (you just mentioned) can be perceived as stuck up, bougie, etc. As Black women with preferences for Introversion, we need to be especially aware of how our behaviours are perceived by others.”

After the panel questions from Jeri, a few of the 500+ virtual attendees had a chance to ask questions (though there were far more questions than the hour-long panel had time to answer). One of the questions was:

What advice do you have for a 23 year old Black introvert?

Brenda replied, “you don’t have to learn to be a performing extravert.”

Darrious: “Trust your gut and trust you. You are fine. Sometimes the world has to catch up to you. And protect your energy.”

Howard: “You can’t share your dreams or passion with everyone. Because everyone doesn’t want you to be successful. You do need to protect your energy and be authentic. Surround yourself with people who want you to succeed.”

Watch the recording of “Leading While Black and Introverted” here

Interested in development courses on leadership, diversity, team building or communication? Take a look at how The Myers-Briggs Company can help your team here

Thank you to Jeri Bingham, the Chicago State Foundation and all the panelists for this amazing virtual event and important discussion around intersectionality!


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