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Shaking the World, Gently

Jennifer Aldrich HOW To

Think being an introvert will slow you down in your career? Think again—and use these four strategies to master your quiet revolution.

There are conference sessions that inform. There are sessions that inspire. And then there are sessions that are downright cathartic—and we heard from many of you that Jennifer Aldrich’s “Introvert’s Guide to Career Progression” was exactly that.

The talk, part of our Leadership series curated by Stephen Gates, focused on a trio of strategies: how to manage introverts; how to navigate community events without burning out; and finally, actionable ways introverts can self-advocate to quietly amplify their voices.

Aldrich, who is director of community engagement at InVision, proudly identifies as an introvert—and proudly says that being an introvert isn’t a hindrance in your career. Rather, it can be your superpower.

“If you take advantage of the skills you have as an introvert, they can just propel your career as far as you want to go,” she told the audience.

Here are four major action items and wisdoms from Aldrich’s session.

Proceed to the Proving Grounds

Aldrich pointed out that some of the most remarkable individuals throughout history—from Rosa Parks to Bill Gates and Barack Obama—have identified as introverts at one point or another.

Introverts tend to be hyper-observant—and that gets to the heart of one of an introvert’s greatest powers: being able to truly connect with people and create great one-on-one relationships. In other words, one of the strongest elements of being an effective and natural manager. “You can manage the daylights out of a team,” Aldrich said.

But how do you get on the leadership track when you’re not the most vocal person in the room?

Aldrich said to directly request a project that you can run and manage end to end. “Ask for that … because they might not notice that you can completely crush it.”

The results will speak for themselves.

Communicate With Comfort

All introverts know what it’s like to be in a meeting, desperately trying to claim a stray second of silence to put forth an idea. It can feel like a futile battle, but it’s crucial to your career.

To that end, Aldrich recommends sending contributions and ideas to your management and team ahead of time, or post-meeting.

“If you take the initiative,” she said, “it can make a huge difference in the way that your management sees the work that you’re doing.”

Moreover, Aldrich said it’s key to communicate and share ideas in the way that is most comfortable for you. That could be in writing. That could be sketching on a whiteboard. Making a graph. Whatever it is, embrace it, and get it to the right people.

Stop the Steamrollers

Still having trouble getting your point across in a meeting as the chorus drowns you out?

Aldrich recommends getting an extrovert “sponsor” who will advocate for you, and carve out direct space. Should someone cut you off or steamroll your response, your sponsor can guide the narrative back to you.

What were you saying again?

Remember: Hope is Not a Strategy

Aldrich, like many introverts, hates talking about her successes and what she excels in. But again, it’s an essential thing to be able to do.

Aldrich recalled how she was once talking with colleague Stephen Gates about a promotion she wanted. She told him she really hoped someone noticed the things she was achieving.

Gates’ reply: “Hope is not a strategy when it comes to your career. … If you want that promotion, you need to make sure that your manager sees what you’re doing and the impact that you’re having on the organization.”

So, again—using whatever means you are most comfortable communicating within—be direct, and show or tell them.

And guess what? Aldrich did. And she got that promotion.

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Ultimately, Aldrich said that many introverts believe that they must act like extroverts to get ahead. But that’s just not true.

After all, as her favorite quote, via Mahatma Gandhi, goes, “In a gentle way, you can shake the world.”

You don’t have to change yourself to get ahead.

“It doesn’t matter what life throws your way, there are all kinds of things that can go on that can feel like they’re going to block your progress; they won’t block your progress if you don’t let them. And I want you to figure out what’s most important to you in your career—the things you really, really value—figure out the steps you need to get there, and then make it happen. You can do anything; introversion is not going to block you.

“Don’t let anything get in your way as you’re moving through your career.”

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