Unsung heroes – whose quiet dedication makes them special.
For those who live in UK and/or follow the tradition, know about ‘Her Majesty’s Most Gracious Speech.’ given on December 25 at 3pm local time. This is an old tradition which was started back in 1932. The first time was given by Elizabeth II’s grandfather King George V and the Queen has been giving address since 1952.
Since I moved to UK, 2014, I watch The Queen’s speech with great interest. I did some research to know who writes her speech and came to know that the Queen does it herself and use it as a chance to reflect on major events that have occurred that year, her personal milestones and her view on Christmas in general.
Last year’s speech was very touching, as it usually is, and she covered topics that I immediately related to business reality. But there was one part that resonated in my mind and inspired me to write this article. When she spoke about ‘Unsung Heroes’.
Her Majesty’s words “I often draw strength from meeting ordinary people doing extraordinary things: volunteers, carers, community organisers and good neighbours; unsung heroes whose quiet dedication makes them special.”
Deliberating about it and the different interactions I have had throughout my career and a book I read some time back, the first thought that came to my mind about ‘UNSUNG HEROES’ (‘whose quiet dedication makes them special.’) in the office environment it was ‘INTROVERTS’.
Last year I read a book on the topic written by Susan Cain – an introvert expert herself. On the book ‘Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking’ she beautifully portraits the importance and influence of the introverts in organizations and the world as a whole. Among famous leaders and passages, she described how Eleanor Roosevelt, who also described herself in her biography as severely shy and withdrawn, contributed to Franklin Roosevelt’s campaigns winning 4 elections by organizing women voters, tailoring F. Roosevelt’s campaign message, coordinating publicity and calming angry delegates etc. All work done behind the scenes. Another great and more contemporary example is Steve Wozniak. Although Steve Jobs is remembered as a visionary and the face of Apple, Wozniak was the brain behind Apple’s first computer and subsequent projects. A clear example of the business version of unsung heroes. As a whole, she says that the more creative people tend to be “socially poised introverts,” where solitude is crucial for their creativity. Working in offices, people should be allowed to choose whether to be alone or to socialize. – It is not me who is saying that. It is the expert.
This reading definitely struck a chord on how people behave differently in the office. If you pay attention, it is not so difficult to identify those who speak up and defend their point of view even if, sometimes, not 100% sure. In meetings, group discussions or the famous brainstorming – very common in business today, the more ‘vocals’ or ‘outspoken’ fellows often drive the discussion whereas the shy and unassuming people remain quiet and sometimes, leave the meeting without expressing their precious thoughts and knowledge.
The core point of this article is how to make sure our introverts / unsung heroes get heard, and more importantly, be visible, so they can also shine and grow in the organization – of course, those who have the ambition to.
Throughout my career, lately leading multicultural and technical teams, in different instances I came across to situation in which vocals take the lead and, sometimes, introverts pass ‘unnoticed’. I am humble about the fact that I haven’t done in-depth research on this but below are a few things I try to do with consistency when I identify such ‘unsung heroes’ in my teams:
Respect their space & Pace: Those who I have identified as introverts, they are in general modest, unassuming and conservative person who will be inclined to consistently and patiently do things by “the book” with high accuracy to details. Best is then to let them have their ‘lone-corner’ (whether possible) and allow them time to think, plan, and prepare. Giving introverts time to think and gather their thoughts you’re more likely to get great ideas and solutions from them.
Make it safe: Involve them and make it safe for them to communicate. Prior to meetings (one-to-one or group meetings), give clear agenda and enough preparation time so introverts can prepare and confidently present their ideas. If a brainstorming or group discussion, the more vocally assertive extroverts are the most likely to be heard. So, if despite the entreaties they are shy to verbalize their thoughts or be influenced, I used silence exercise and post-its, a common best practice in project management used in brainstorming sessions, to ensure that everyone’s voice is captured and actions created out of it.
Give them exposure: This is a trick but important one. Their main concern is often to get things done right, on time and accurately. As anyone, it is important to give feedback on the good work done. With introverts specifically, additional effort is put on letting others know what they have accomplished and how much that have supported the overall business strategy – give them exposure. It is, however, equally important to measure and identify the best way to give them that as they may feel uncomfortable giving a presentation or get public recognition. Choose the best approach after getting to know the person well.
Teambuilding or social events: In general, they prefer solitude – happy being by themselves. So, socially this person would normally be an unobtrusive, quiet person, who may be friendly and pleasant with known people, and often formal and reserved when meeting new people. I once discussed with an acquaintance of mine who is a self-declared EXTROVERT. She told me that if she goes to a party and there she is not the center of attention and doesn’t get the chance to speak and meet as many people as she can, she will say that party was very boring – even if it was a superb event! An introvert will seek come in and leave unnoticed – then the party is considered good. Otherwise, they tend to leave very tired and seeking solitude to restore their energy – that was what I heard. Let them be themselves and mingle with people they feel comfortable being surrounded by.
To summarize, my experience working with some introverts (those who I have identified as so) has been very enriching and rewarding – they are very thoughtful and engaged, and I job given to them means a job well done. For leaders, it is paramount to put our people in their right zone of stimulation, being an introvert or extrovert. So, looking at the clues here shared and identifying people’s characteristic is key to get the best out of our people.
If you have interest on the topic and want to learn more about introverts – being you one yourself or to help your team, I recommend you read Susan’s book.
And if you want to share your experience with them… we will be happy to hear…