NFL Draft experts are clueless and 3 lessons on leading and working with introverts from an actual introvert (me)

The NFL Draft, my favorite event on the NFL calendar, is a week away which means a lot of football nerds (including yours truly) have some strong opinions on the pro football career prospects of college-aged men. There is one personality trait that gets brought up now and then during evaluations that makes me start yelling obscenities at the television though. Last year, Justin Herbert, a quarterback from Oregon and a top prospect in that draft, had his possible future success questioned; not because of his physical ability but because he was allegedly too introverted. Forget that his coaches and teammates vouched for him and that he was highly successful at the college level. The hive mind of NFL Draft experts believed him to have the wrong personality to lead a franchise and find success unlike the top pick, Joe Burrow, who was described as, “one of the guys.” I guess not being seen at parties and earning a degree in biology doesn’t translate to the NFL.

Herbert was ultimately drafted 6th by the Los Angeles Chargers and, surely being a competitor filled with epic amounts of F*-you-idness, ended up winning the offensive rookie of the year award after a record breaking season. I took interest in Herbert because I’m a fellow introvert and I love it when one of us shoves those opinions right back up those gasbags’ asses. Quietly and with consideration, of course.

Since it’s an unfair burden on all of our friends who have to defend us with, “no, they’re really nice,” every time someone says we’re unfriendly just because we can’t muster a smile on the way to the bathroom, I want to help create a little more understanding.

Based on my vast experience as an introvert traversing corporate life one awkward smile at a time, here are three lessons to help you understand your favorite introverts and get the most out of them:

Amplifying introvert voices is necessary at the team and individual level

We’d all like to believe that our work speaks for itself but that’s not always the case. Some hard-charging teams need more strategic introverts to help them avoid the potholes on their roadmaps, while some highly strategic teams need some extroverted doers to help them get in the car and go while telling everyone breathing that their car creates so much value that it runs on rain clouds and farts rainbows. Everyone cares about engagement (and keeping their jobs) and visibility with other parts of the organization is important. Think about the composition of your teams strategically and adjust to ensure they remain productive and properly amplified.

It’s also helpful to do this on an individual basis. Introverts don’t tend to be great self-promoters or visible cogs in the social gears of an organization. This can have an unfair impact on a career. Recognize your high performing introverts and help them figure out how not to miss their shots while staying authentic to who they are.

Authenticity is everything: be yourself and let introverts be themselves

Don’t pressure introverts to be like extroverts though. Also, fellow introverts, don’t try to mimic your extrovert colleagues. There was a team celebration dinner once several years ago when I was a new leader. I was never pressured by my gregarious boss to be anything that I wasn’t but I put pressure on myself to do the same kind of checking in on everyone in the style they would’ve done. The team had known me for years but I thought I was successful in my efforts making the rounds. Then my close friend on the team texted me later that night to tell me how different I was and not in a good way. It took me a while to reflect on it and understand what she was saying but it was a simple lesson: authenticity matters and we have to be our authentic selves. Trust, respect, and showing your team that you care have nothing to do with extroverted leadership styles or behaviors.

A lack of gregariousness also doesn’t mean we don’t build relationships. We do a lot of relationship-building behind the scenes, one on one, and in more meaningful ways. I used every interaction with a colleague as a means to build professional trust. A lot of the personal small talk and checking up on families and vacations often came later and as a result of that trust but, at the very least, everyone knew I was a good faith partner. I remember being accused of being transactional by people on the outside looking in and it couldn’t have been further from the truth. Going through life with a perpetual tally of quid pro quo’s and superficial “friendships” that disappear on a whim is a toxic way to go about your business and we introverts are much more guarded against that than most. It’s good to understand everyone goes about their business differently but building trust is universal.

Understand the need for recharge time

Being an extrovert is exhausting for an introvert. A week packed with meetings, team check-ins, presenting, and happy hours takes its toll. Don’t judge if you see your favorite introverts off by themselves during breaks listening to music or checking their phone intensely while everyone else socializes. The same goes for all of those micro-interactions in the hallways and in the break room. We’re not being rude and we’re not weirdos if we don’t notice you or forget to say hello today when we did yesterday. We just need to recharge for the next time we need to be “on.” I made sure to build in little breaks during my day where I could get some coffee and close the door to my office and think about nothing for 15 minutes. Staying productive means sometimes we don’t want to talk to anyone. Be kind to your favorite introverts in these times. They love and care about you. Promise. Probably.

Hope all of you fellow NFL Draft weirdos feel some hope next week and remember: introverts make great leaders and winners. You think Bill Belichick is an extrovert?

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