From the time I was little, our extended family explained my quietness as, “Bobby is shy, just like his Dad.”
Their tone conveyed to me that I was to be pitied, like a person with a disability through no fault of their own. I didn’t want to be shy, but I sure didn’t want to have people focus on me or worry about me. In our private family times my dad nicknamed me “Gabby” because I offered monosyllabic answers to his questions. To me “OK,” “Fine”, or “Yes” were complete sentences.
Shyness is usually associated with being quiet, insecure, and/or socially anxious. Being shy is not necessarily bad. Certainly my experience is evidence that a person shy by nature can function effectively in leadership roles.
Society has long had a bias that great leaders must be bold or assertive rather than shy or introverted. But both history and research have shown us that shyness can shine in leadership roles and brings a value that assertiveness may lack. Shyness is a fear of negative evaluation and, in some instances, is a milder form of social anxiety.
True leadership stems from individuality that is honest and sometimes imperfectly expressed. Leaders should strive for authenticity over perfection.
I find a good measure of comfort in knowing that Kate Middleton is shy and introverted. She lives her life on the world stage and is one of the most loved Royals.
After seeing her speak at countless other events, it’s hard to believe that the duchess isn’t a natural-born public speaker. Hats off to the future Queen.
About 15% of babies are born with a tendency to be shy. Research from scientists shows that there are biological differences in the brains of shy people. However, not all shy people are phobic. Answer the following three questions in terms of how true they are for you on a scale of 0 to 4, where 0 is “not at all” and 4 is “extremely present.”
- Does fear of embarrassment cause you to avoid doing things or speaking to people?
- Do you avoid activities in which you are the center of attention?
- Are being embarrassed or looking stupid among your worst fears?
Generally, total scores of 6 or higher are indicative of possible Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD).
Situations where you might find yourself being more prone to shyness:
- Public speaking, e.g. class presentations
- Meeting new people
- Going to a new place
- Eating in public
- Talking to someone important, e.g. your boss
Symptoms of Shyness
- Quietly and passively
- Avoiding social situations
- Speaking quietly
- Nervous behaviors, such as touching your hair or face a lot, tapping your toes on the ground, clicking a pen over and over, biting your nails etc.
The World Needs Shy Leaders
Shy and introverted people tend to be incredibly active listeners.
They’re skilled in observing and identifying character traits in others, which helps them to successfully lead various personality types. Introverts are also more likely to be honest and humble, show greater receptivity to suggestions from others, and often take a moment to process their thoughts before acting.
Additionally, shy and introverted people tend to be more self-sufficient and independent.
Ways to Cope With Shyness
Prepare a topic for conversation. If you are shy, casual conversations can stress you out. Even if you have a lot to say on a particular topic, your thoughts and worries about how others in the conversation will see you can spur insights or witty comments on the topic. out of your head. Thinking about what you might talk about with new people can really help the conversation and any awkward feelings. It helps to pick a topic that the other person is familiar with. Get interested in it. Learn a few things about it. Ask good questions out of interest.
Smile (not a Sheldon Cooper smile) and be friendly. You are more likely to be friendly to someone who smiles at you, so try it yourself. Opening yourself up to people can make them feel more comfortable and more likely to be friendly in response. It works.
Practice social skills. Start practicing your social skills one at a time. Try smiling at someone or saying ‘hi’ and keep practicing at home until you feel confident to try it out in a social situation.
Worse case scenarios.
It helps to run through some of the worst things that could happen. If you can take the worst you can make the connection. Doing so helps you realize that they might not be as bad as you initially thought and would also prepare you for these situations if they were to happen. In case something embarrassing does happen, allow it to happen and laugh about it. That in itself is courageous.
“I’m shy.” This is scary. The level of vulnerability required to self-identify as shy is enormously deep. However, letting other people know that you are shy can sometimes make the situation more comfortable.
Reward yourself. It’s extremely helpful to tell yourself that you did well after you’ve been in an uncomfortable situation. My biggest struggle is focusing on what didn’t go right. A misspoken word, a forgotten point, or what I imagined to be a funny story that fell flat. I have to remember that sometimes things can go wrong, and instead of focusing on the fails, to shift my focus to the things that DID go well. And then enjoy something rewarding.
Like Kate and even me, shy women and men may find it “challenging” to mix in the public spotlight, but to others you look like you’re fulfilling the role you were born to play: leader.
One of the most popular books about introverts and leadership is Quiet by Susan Cain. Cain talks about the “power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking,” and I find it very inspirational.
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