I am so pleased that Pearl Alexander decided to speak from her heart and write this wonderful piece about her experience as an introverted HR leader. Called “Leveraging Diversity of Temperament,” in it Pearl fully embraces who she is and calls for extroverts to let her speak. She writes, ” Despite having a proven track record, I’m still measured by the standards expected of an extroverted leader, and so I am on a quest for influencing new practices. These include teaching and coaching leaders to recognize, value and leverage diversity of temperament. The work of psychiatrist Carl Jung distinguishes the neuroscience and physical realities of temperament. There are times when the introverted leader struggles to be visible and heard during the chatty, extrovert-led meetings. One awaits a pause or well-timed invitation into a conversation that may never occur. An extrovert exercising the competencies of connection and compassion can change that.
Here is the blog post I wrote about Pearl’s well received talk at a program we presented together in Atlanta.
“I recently had the privilege of sharing the stage with an introverted leader I admire. Pearl Alexander, Senior Director, HR and Workforce Strategy at the Georgia Institute of Technology is a woman who makes such a difference at her organization and beyond.
In our time together, Pearl shared her personal reflections on embracing her role and owning her quiet strengths. She was kind enough to offer me permission to share her thoughts with all of you. I have highlighted my favorite lines in italics and will think of Pearl when I am dipping into my “quiet courage.” What parts resonate with you and why?
I have a confession to make. Because of being an introverted leader I have not always been keenly aware of my need for belonging. It’s a legitimate need we all have. You see I have proudly worn the label and accepted the position of “not fitting in” or having a temperament that is difficult to appreciate. That is until recently.
Back in 2010, I had the distinct privilege of serving Georgia Tech as the chief diversity strategist while we searched for our first Vice President of Institute Diversity. I had volunteered for this role and was totally jazzed to be working closely with Georgia Tech’s then newly minted president, Dr. G.P. Bud Peterson. One day as I was awaiting my one-on-one meeting with President Peterson someone who knew both of us fairly well, jokingly, said to me: “Pearl, you are so quiet, what could you and the president possibly talk about for an hour?” I smiled and softly replied, you have no idea! The truth be told, an hour was never enough for the two of us. He’s an introverted leader for sure! These and other moments serve to remind me of my need for belonging. With him I felt genuinely accepted, valued, and not interpreted. As a Diversity and Inclusion and Human Resource leader, I have sought to raise my own consciousness by embracing this need for belonging and I intentionally relate to others differently.
I have always embraced my introversion; it allows me to enjoy my own company so completely. However, I must accept that it’s human and okay to actually need to belong with all types of people. Sure, I can survive without belonging, but I can’t thrive without belonging despite my temperament.
My extroverted colleagues seem to appreciate me most when they need to borrow some of my “quiet courage.” In my space they can speak their truths, their fears, and their shame. I wouldn’t trade anything for those moments and don’t want to deprive myself of connecting, forming bonds, and co-creating something beautiful together.
I’ve learned that I must be mindful that my quietness isn’t sending the wrong messages – like, I don’t want to be with you, or I don’t belong to you. After marathon meetings or brainstorming sessions, I sneak away for moments of reflection and solitude as a matter of survival. When my psychic energy is depleted, my thoughts come slower; it is harder to speak coherently, and the crankier I get!! But those moments of solitude, help me to emerge wiser, and amazingly useful! Simply put, quietness may say something. It leaves an emotional wake.