Have you ever doubted your ability to lead because you don’t fit the extroverted stereotype that most people associate with leadership? You’re not alone!
In this episode host David Hall welcomes guest Ben Woelk, a mentor, coach, and introverted leader. Ben shares his own journey to leadership as an introvert, and talks about how he discovered and mastered leadership skills as well as how he uses his strengths and leadership role to help others in the workplace along their journeys.
Join us as we discuss how introverts can be effective leaders, the importance of understanding your own unique strengths, and how to create a sense of belonging in virtual workspaces.
Tune in to learn valuable lessons in leadership, especially for introverts and be strong.
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Ben Woelk, CISSP, CPTC, is Governance, Awareness, and Training Manager for the Information Security Office at the Rochester Institute of Technology. Ben teaches an RIT course on Introverts and Leadership, created the Hope for the Introvert podcast. He advocates for, coaches, and mentors introverted leaders and is a frequent speaker and workshop facilitator at conferences.
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Other resources mentioned in this episode:
Susan Cain – Quiet(book)
Susan Cain’s Ted Talk
David Keirsey – Please Understand Me II (book)
Alan Alda – If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look On My Face?: My Adventures in the Art and Science of Relating and Communicating(book)
Daniel Coyle – The Culture Code(book)
MyersBriggs Typefinder Assessment
Clifton Strengths Assessment – (The book includes a free code to take the assessment. NOTE there is also a newer version for youth ages 10-14 )
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[00:02:25] The author initially saw herself as lacking in leadership abilities due to her introverted personality, but took on a vice president position in a professional society and eventually grew in her leadership journey by partnering with others and taking on higher roles. She began to speak about introverted leadership and initiated a mentoring program and Slack community, which led to editing an entire issue of a magazine on the subject and becoming a keynote speaker at a conference. She now coaches and mentors others in identifying and applying their strengths.
[00:11:39] Ben Woelk always knew the was introverted but didn’t realize introversion could coexist with leadership until learning about it. They grew up isolated but also surrounded by brilliant peers. They discovered their Myers-Briggs INTJ temperament type and found resources on how to lead effectively.
[00:16:45] INTJ introvert emphasizes strategic thinking and contingency planning, surprised at newfound importance of connecting with people and helping introverts become confident leaders.
[00:22:14] Introvert with strengths in building deep connections, seeing interconnections, and innovation. Relates to few but cares deeply. Sees public health techniques in info security awareness.
[00:26:05] Introverts thrive in one on one or small group interactions and enjoy working with people despite myths suggesting otherwise.
[00:29:18] Time for reflection is important. Introverts need it to contribute their best. An improvisation workshop is a good tool for improving communication. An introverts and leadership class proved transformative for some students.
[00:37:29] Servant leadership, not seeking personal recognition as a leader. Focus on helping team excel and equip themselves, not leaving one’s imprint. Can work well with self-starters, struggles with providing continuous structure.
[00:40:32] Leadership and belonging explored at conferences, deliberate connection-making important for virtual workforce, belonging cues crucial.
[00:44:57] Offers virtual and in-person workshops on introverts and leadership with improvisation; creating self-paced coursework; busy schedule with day job, adjunct teaching, and RIT certified work. Seeks time for one-on-one support.
[00:46:49] Believe in oneself, need for mentors and coaches. Contact at benwalk.com for mentorship and coaching.
Ben Woelk [00:00:00]:
So what I found for me is this ability to connect with people, to listen to them, to try not to provide solutions to everything right away, because I’m still prone to do that. But the ability to listen and help walk alongside and help strategize in terms of how to get things done has been super impactful. And I’m always so excited when I see people that I’ve been talking to start taking, even if it’s little steps towards leadership positions. Right. Because we need that person behind I didn’t have that person behind me, I don’t think. But we need that person behind us. You can do it. I’m there with you. You can do it. This will be okay. Look at how well you’ve done. Look how you’ve succeeded. So I think that’s been a big piece of it for me in terms of the strengths parts.
David Hall [00:01:05]:
Hello and welcome to episode 126 of the Quiet and Strong Podcast, especially for introverts. I’m your host, David Hall, and the creator of quietandstrong.com. This is a weekly podcast dedicated to understanding the strengths and needs of introverts. Introversion is not something to fix, but to be embraced normally. What are each episode? On a Monday, be sure to subscribe on your favorite platform, leave a review. That would mean a lot to me. Tell a friend about the podcast and help get the word out there that introversion is a beautiful thing. Ben Woelk is a governance, awareness and training manager for the Information Security Office at the Rochester Institute of Technology. Ben teaches an RIT course on introverts and leadership. He’s the creator of hope for the introvert podcast. He advocates for coaches and mentors, introverted leaders, and is a frequent speaker and a workshop facilitator at conferences. All right, well, welcome to the quiet and strong podcast, Ben. Ben, it’s so good to have you on today.
Ben Woelk [00:02:05]:
Well, thank you, David. I really appreciate the opportunity.
David Hall [00:02:09]:
All right, so you do a lot of work with introverts and leadership, and so let’s start with your own journey. Tell us about yourself and how you work through your own introversion to becoming a leader and then helping other introverted leaders.
Ben Woelk [00:02:25]:
Okay. And I’ll try to keep this somewhat brief so we don’t use up the whole time doing that because first time I talked about it was like an hour and 15 minutes and way too long, basically. Going back to the leadership journey, I would say I didn’t think I had any leadership abilities whatsoever for decades because my vision of a leader was that Western extroverted leader who is out in front kind of directing everyone and being that public face of everything. But my leadership journey started primarily with a nonprofit organization called Society for Technical Communication. And the society is really it consists of both independent members, but also geographic chapters and being in the Rochester area and working in technical communication, I joined up the group there. They knew I was at rochester Institute of Technology and thought that I would be a good choice in terms of creating educational programming for them, finding speakers, that sort of thing. And I did that for them for a couple of years, and then they asked me whether I would consider running for another position. They do elections every year. They’re typically unopposed, but they still do elections every year. I think it’s a typical small nonprofit problem, I guess, or convenience. But they asked me if I would run and I said sure, I’ll do anything besides this vice president role. And I didn’t want to do the vice president role because they chaired a conference and they had to be up in front of everyone, and they had to speak in front of everyone, and I didn’t want to do that. So I said, sure, I’ll do anything but this. And then when the ballot came out, they had me listed under vice president. And at that point I think I figured I would just run with it. I felt really awkward going back and saying, no, take me off, because it had already been published. So I was elected vice president, there were two of us, so it was a co-vp thing. So I was not on my own. And I think that’s actually been one of the keys as I look back over the years, the number of times I’ve been able to partner with someone, at least for a time, and to help me get my own footing. But I did the vice president role, then I did the president role after that. And the STC has a large kind of a central office in the sense that they have a board of directors that’s directed that’s elected. And I saw some of the challenges I ran into becoming president of the local organization, and a lot of the things I had to figure out, and I wanted to figure out, I thought I could make a difference on a larger level. So they have an organization called the Community Affairs Committee, which essentially works with all of these geographic chapters and virtual chapters. And I went and helped with them for a couple of years, decided to run for a director position with the organization, was elected to that, served as a director for a couple of years, and then for a number of personal reasons had to drop back for a couple of years. But what I was able to do during that time is I started a leadership trajectory. I found that I could do these things. It was always terrifying. It always felt like I was stepping out on a tightrope or something and don’t look down, don’t look down sort of thing, just keep moving ahead. But I found that I was able to have an impact now around that same time. This is 2013 ish so Susan Cain’s quiet had recently come out. I co-presented with a friend at one of their conferences on introverted leadership. And we took the Cane book kind of as our overarching structure for what we were talking about, plus our own experiences. And it was well received and it was great. But then I got on the board and didn’t do anything with it for a couple of years. A few years later at another one of their conferences. And I’ve spoken at conferences outside of that organization at this point, but another one of their conferences. I put in a proposal for an introvert’s journey to leadership, and it was me telling my story, which was, as you know, as an introvert is absolutely terrifying because I’m quite content to talk about any number of other subjects. But having to be vulnerable and talk about myself was really scary. But I had an opening 09:00 a.m. session at this conference and nervous I’ve got a recording of it. You can hear how nervous I am when I start talking. It was standing room only. And I was absolutely shocked, not shocked that there are that many introverts in the organization. Shocked that that many would want to come and hear the story of my journey to leadership. And of course I talk about the struggles. I’ve overcame all of those sort of things with it. But it was well received. I did not make another session the next two to three days of the conference because of the number of people who had attended that session who wanted to talk to me about their own experiences. So I think at that point the light bulb started to go on for me and I realized this is really important, this is impactful, this can make a difference in people’s lives. And I started I asked for some volunteers to be training wheels as I developed a mentoring program. So I had some volunteers agree to be mentored, some of which I still talk to on a monthly basis and this is several years ago and set up a slack introverted leadership community. Actually had a couple of hundred people signed up on that. So that was fairly active for a while, but it just started blossoming into this opportunity to make a difference. And we also have STC has an in-house magazine publication called Intercom Magazine. And the editor was there and I asked, can I do an article about introverts and leadership? And she basically said, would you like to do a whole issue about introverts and leadership? So I was offered the opportunity to guest edit an issue of the magazine. That role involved recruiting other people to write about their experiences around introversion and leadership. And we touched into temperament types. We looked at the autism spectrum in terms of how that can impact things also. But all of a sudden, a few months later, I guest edited a whole magazine around the subject. And that led to opportunities and other speaking opportunities outside of STC and inside of STC. And I don’t want to say culminated because I’m hoping that there will still be more opportunities, but I was able to be a keynote at a technical communication conference in the UK that they invited me over to and was able to do that a few years ago also. But it’s been fascinating, because if I look back now to where I am, and I don’t feel like any way that I’ve kind of reached the pinnacle of success or anything like that, but if I turn around and look back at the steps I’ve climbed, it’s crazy because I never would have thought that I would be able to do it. I never would have thought that it would have been able to be a leader with an impact. And I don’t think I realized how introverts, not knowing their strengths and abilities can hold us back from basically whether you want to call it success, comfort level, being all that we can be, that sort of thing. But a lot of my work over the last few years has been some writing about it, some podcasting, but a lot of coaching and mentoring and talking to people, helping them identify their strengths, helping them figure out how to apply their strengths and overcome the challenges they face. And all that’s outside my day job. So it’s been an absolutely fascinating, definitely passion project for me, and I just love the opportunity to talk about it.
David Hall [00:11:17]:
Wow. Thank you for sharing your journey, and I’m looking forward to getting more into introverts and leadership. So you mentioned Susan Kane, and again, that’s a great book. Susan Cain’s quiet and also her famous Ted Talk that helped a lot of people really understand introversion. Was that your first introduction or when did you figure out that you were an introvert?
Ben Woelk [00:11:39]:
I think I probably always knew. I didn’t necessarily think what that really meant. My mom was very extroverted, and when you get into temperament types, I’m sure she was an ENTJ field marshal type who could do anything right and was brave and would go out to talk to people and could run organizations and things like that. But I actually grew up in essentially a farmhouse in the middle of an orange grove with one sister, our closest neighbor, a half mile away, and got married at 16. So it’s probably not the best influence person anyway. But I spent a tremendous amount of time reading, I spent a lot of time learned some musical instruments played in some organizations. But all of it’s always that question of the nature versus nurture thing, right, in terms of what really impacted things. I did grow up in a fairly isolated home in that sense, but it was also on what is now the Space Coast in Florida, so that the schools I went to, I was surrounded by NASA engineers kids. So it was this crazy thing of growing up literally in a house in the middle of an orange grove and then going to a high school where I was surrounded by absolutely brilliant people. So it was interesting. And I knew I was an introvert. I don’t think I ever I’m sure at some point I labeled it. Did I focus on it? No, I absolutely did not. But I always knew when there was an opportunity to be a leader or step up to be a leader, I was always super hesitant because I didn’t think I had any ability around that whatsoever. And it’s a long way of not totally answering the question. But I think I’ve always known I was not outgoing and not extroverted in that sense, but did not probably realize until I looked at Susan Cain’s work and then other things around the same time that, hey, you can be an introvert and you can be a leader. And part of the stuff I dove into at that point was David Kiersey, it’s keirsey.com. I’ll get you the spelling if you’re not familiar with it, but it uses MyersBriggs temperament types, but it assesses things a little bit differently, which is really confusing at first because it’s like, well, they’re using the same letters, but it’s almost a different language. But what I read is that once I took the temperament inventory type thing, I typed as an INTJ, which I obviously the introverted part. But in their materials, there was a lot of information about how INTJs or these other temperament types, how they functioned in the workplace, how they led, what worked for them. And I found that really helpful also. I also find it kind of eerie in the sense that reading the descriptions they said in terms of that temperament type at the time he wrote it, you typically find them in research labs or universities and of course, I’m at a university now. But it was also got to the point where they talked about specific gestures that I use, which that temperament type uses and their favorite colors being blue and things like this. And it’s like, this is just so weird. But I found looking at those types of things and then starting to essentially get some practical experience in the leadership building on small successes, right. Kind of got me moving on the journey.
David Hall [00:15:37]:
Yeah. I like David Kiersey’s work. I read. Please understand me. There’s two editions. Please Understand Me II was his latest. I’m an INTJ as well. And that’s so important.
Ben Woelk [00:15:48]:
What a surprise. Yeah.
David Hall [00:15:51]:
A lot of times people try to put all introverts into the same box, but we’re half the population. There’s many, many different types of introverts. Part of this whole thing is that our approach to leadership or public speaking or productivity, whatever it is, looks a little different. And that’s, I think, where where the problem can occur. Not for everybody. Some introverts know exactly how to use their strengths from early on. Not all of us. Some of us, like you and I, have to kind of figure it out. And that’s why we do this work that we’re doing. And you mentioned strengths, and we have different strengths as an INTJ or various other strengths, or you mentioned your mother was probably an ENTJ. She had different strengths, and that’s what we have to get to. So what would you say is a strength or two that you have because you’re an introvert.
Ben Woelk [00:16:45]:
Or an introvert who’s also an INTJ? Yeah, that ties in too, right? Because there is I’m very strategic in terms of thinking, and you will understand this because you are coming from the same temperament type, but essentially one of the INTJ descriptions that I like is one where it’s described as a mastermind sort of thing, right. So for me, what that means is I can make plans. I can start moving forward. I don’t have to have everything in place because there’s always the contingency plan being developed. What do I do if this doesn’t work? How do I go around this instead of going straight through it? Which is definitely to me, an introverted trait, because I’ve seen too many managers risk run up against the same wall over and over and over, and it’s like, well, why didn’t you just step over here and go through the store here? Then you would have been on the other side of it. So I’m pretty good at identifying paths or pathways in order to get things done. What surprised me around INTJs, we’re supposed to be primarily concerned with data and things. One thing that really has surprised me, and I did a Clifton Strengths inventory recently, also is how important the people side of it has become to me, because that wasn’t me. And I found a Clifton strings test I took ten years ago and one I took now. And now relator is like the second or third thing on that list. It wasn’t anywhere in the top 20 or 30 ten years ago. So what I found for me is this ability to connect with people, to listen to them, to try not to provide solutions to everything right away, because I’m still prone to do that. But the ability to listen and help walk alongside and help strategize in terms of how to get things done has been super impactful. And I’m always so excited when I see people that I’ve been talking to start taking, even if it’s little steps towards leadership positions, right? Because we need that person behind I didn’t have that person behind me, I don’t think, but we need that person behind us. You can do it. I’m there with you. You can do it. This will be okay. Look at how well you’ve done. Look how you succeeded. So I think that’s been a big piece of it for me in terms of the strengths part. So I don’t know. I hesitate to describe myself as being empathetic or empathic. I’m never sure which of the two it is but I’m definitely much more invested in helping introverts, especially become more confident and stronger in the workplace and leadership positions, whether they’re organizational or if just as an influencer.
David Hall [00:19:55]:
Wow. I also like the Clifton strengths. And it’s funny that you bring up empathy because I have a little story around that. So we absolutely care about people. We wouldn’t be doing the kind of work that we do, but it looks different, and that’s important to know. And my top strength with Clifton strengths is connectedness, and it basically means that you see how everything fits together and that could be people or things. And I think that’s where my empathy comes from. And there’s a lot of value in workshops like where you do something like the Clifton strengths, and there’s the large discussion, there’s the table discussion, there’s individual reflection. I met at doing one of these table discussions, and I’m sitting across from someone I knew pretty well, I’d worked with for a long time. There’s 34 themes of talent, and Gallup has empathy, and we’re talking, and I think that was her number one. And she was telling me how she feels the feelings of others, and I’m thinking, oh, the way she’s talking about this isn’t my strength. I don’t know why, I don’t know why that is. And it’s really funny. Normally this instrument, I’m telling everybody that’s listening, it’s not familiar. They give you your top five, and that’s where you focus. You focus and you get the most return or however you want to put that working in your strengths and not focusing on your weaknesses, but focusing on your strengths. And normally you don’t see all 34, but I saw 34, and number 34 was empathy. And a lot of times people, if I say that and they’re not familiar with all this, they’re like, oh, you don’t care about people. But no, I actually do. Ben, you probably can relate to this. My caring is more of a logical thing. So, like, if I’m trying to help you, I’m going to think, what’s it like to be Ben, what’s it like to be going through this challenge that he’s going through. I’m not feeling your emotions. And again, we all have different gifts. I don’t know why that’s not mine. It sounds like it’s probably not yours either, but I care deeply, but it’s more of a logical approach, and I use my imagination. And it’s so important to understand that we all have different gifts for whatever reason.
Ben Woelk [00:22:14]:
No, I mean, it’s very much true. And I did the inexpensive version, so I don’t know where how far down empathy is on my list. It could be down there. The relator part was interesting because I didn’t understand it until I talked to a strengths coach. And for me, it’s that, one, and I think this is a general introvert thing. We don’t have these huge amounts of shallow friendships. We tend to have a few friendships that are very, very deep. And the relator part, from what I saw, really has to do with the desire and ability to work with one or two people on something, work together as a team, get the thing done, care about how the other people are doing with it, that sort of thing. But can I feel what their emotions are? No, not typically. Sometimes there’s some types I can absolutely recognize, like, I’m going to draw a blank ISTJ someone who is very logic checkbox driven. And I can come and say, this is what you are. And how do you know that? Because I know you well enough. You’re served as treasurer of this organization. This is where you are, right? And they laugh about it because it’s true, because they’re so much more black and white oriented. I am very gray oriented in the sense that once I’m working on an initiative, any kind, once it gets into a routine, everything’s black and white, I have no interest in it anymore. I’m always looking for what kind of bringing organization into chaos. In some ways, I love that part of moving in that space, creating things. I hate maintaining things. I want to hand that to someone who’s good at it because I don’t even want to look at it, usually. I just want to move to the next thing. But you mentioned the connectedness and the piece that I had that’s a little different around that is that and I’ve talked with a friend about this also. We kind of see all these discrete dots, right? So say we’ve got, I don’t know, a universe of dots in front of us. A lot of the time I can make figure out connections between them that I would not. The last thing I want to do is come as an introvert, is come across as the least bit prideful or thinking, I’m good at this, right? But I can see connectedness and I can build connections between dots. And I can take something that’s intended in one area over here, like, say, public health communication. My day job, I do information security. Part of that job is information security awareness. And it’s like, well, there’s some public health techniques around that that I can take to information security awareness at a university. So I tend to see these things that I can build connections with and pull from different areas, I think really gets into the innovation thing. But it’s a lot of us even seeing where you can put things together in new ways, right, and come up with new ways of doing things. And I think that’s always been an interest. I think I’ve become more adept at it over the last few years. I’ve also certainly found things that did not work the way I thought they would and have absolutely failed. Not too spectacularly, usually, but at least to some degree. But it’s all of this seeing interconnections, working with the team working with the small groups of individuals, building those deep connections over time has been really important.
David Hall [00:26:05]:
Yeah. And on this show, we definitely talk about the strengths of introverts, which we’re doing, and we also bust some myths. So let’s bust that one that introverts don’t like people, because that’s basically what we’re busting the relator. We do like to work at one on one or in small groups. We thrive there. It’s interesting. My wife is a fellow introvert and she’s a brand photographer. She does headshots and things like that, and she just absolutely loves that one on one connection, really helping people bring out the best and display their brand. But she’s an introvert, and she was having an interesting conversation with some other photographers just yesterday. She said they started talking about, well, I like people, so I think I’m an extrovert. And she started to explain a little bit because she listens to the podcast that, no, you have great skills with people as introverts. It just looks a little different. You do like that one on one, connecting one on one or perhaps in small groups. So that’s definitely a myth that’s out there that we don’t like people. We do. It looks different and our skills may be different and our needs and desires may be different.
Ben Woelk [00:27:18]:
Yeah, for sure for me. And it always comes to the key difference. It’s not the only difference, but it’s recharging, right? It’s how do you gain energy? How do you lose energy? My wife is an extrovert, so we have really interesting conversations, especially when I’m doing work around introversion. She’s providing her perspective on it, but she’s energized around groups of people, right? And obviously it’s to a point, not 12 hours of the group of people, but she enjoys going to these louder, very heavily populated events. For me, I’d much rather just sit on the couch and watch something or read something like that. I can function okay with them, but I lose energy at those events. And part of what Susan Kane pointed out was that how do we recharge? And I kind of do it. I kind of portrayed as extroverts kind of recharge through solar panels from all the energy they’re receiving from other people, while we’re kind of we kind of have these storage batteries that just kind of need to recharge and then we can get back out and face those groups again.
David Hall [00:28:38]:
So we definitely need some time to recharge. And like you said, it’s important to understand the extroverts in our lives, whether that be a spouse or partner or people that you work with, especially in this leadership conversation that we’re having. There’s also a lot of other reasons why we need some space and some time alone in the leadership context. How important is that to know for yourself as a leader to recharge, but also maybe to think, to plan, to focus, but also for those you’re leading? How important is that to know the difference between the time that introverts or extroverts might need.
Ben Woelk [00:29:18]:
So I think there are two pieces to that conversation. The first one is I don’t feel like I spend the amount of time that I should just thinking through things and working through things because I’ve managed to create busyness. But I don’t tend to turn down opportunities, so I have a very full schedule. But in terms of leading a team where you have introverts and extroverts in, it part of it’s absolutely realizing that if I want my best answer for them, I’m going to give them time to reflect on it. I hate the idea in a meeting that the first voice in the meeting is the one that everybody jumps on and say, yeah, let’s do that. Because that from my perspective, probably a little unfairly is probably not a fully developed idea of the best way to do things, but it’s who said it first, right? It tends to be an extrovert. I had a very good friend who is part of an organization. She’s probably one of the brightest people I know and she’s an introvert and her manager described her as a slow thinker. And to me it felt like such a slap in the face, right. Because she processes before she speaks on things. She’s brilliant. But to provide her best contribution, she needs that time to process. So to me it’s providing the time to process. It’s also making sure that if I am leading a team or a meeting that if we have something, people are going to know what we’re going to be talking about. People are going to know what we’re going to be talking about before we get into that meeting. So getting an agenda or at least some opening discussion questions out ahead of time to give especially the introverted attendees an opportunity to know this is what we’re going to talk about. Gives them that opportunity to I hate to say meeting performance meetings are weird. But in general it is to be able to speak more aptly or more confidently when they do not get the time to just sit and prepare for however period of time. We haven’t touched on it yet, but when I do the I teach that introverts and leadership. One credit class at Rochester Institute of Technology and they asked for proposals for one credit classes. I thought this would be a great opportunity and of course the semester that people are graduating, I tend to get a lot more enrollees and they tend to be people, oh, I’m one credit short of graduation. So I pick up a lot of those students. Some of them do the work, some of them don’t. But what I’ve structured the class around is they read the Susan Kane book, they watch the Ted Talk, they do some of the temperament theory type stuff. So they have an idea that not all introverts and all extroverts are the same. The big piece that I brought into it is that we do an improvisation workshop to focus on communication skills. And the idea came from looking around here in my office because I never get the title totally right because it’s too long. Alan Alda has a book where he talks about his experience in communicating scientific and technical information. And I think the title is “If I Understood What You Said, Would I Have This Look On My Face?” somewhere along those lines? It’s really a long title, but he has worked with Stony Brook, Long Island to essentially create I don’t know if it’s the Allen Alda Institute at this point, but they work with scientific and medical professionals on communication skills. And what they found was improvisation work greatly helps their communication skills because it gets them out of their headspace and they don’t look down and say I do. And they’ve got their prepped elevator speech or whatever that they would give with it. And it teaches them to pay attention to the other person and to empathize with them. So I thought that would be a great technique to use for introverts who are taking an introverts and leadership class. Now, to be quite honest, a good number of people, if they find out there’s an improvisation workshop and they’re an introvert, they don’t want to take that class because the last thing they want to do is get in a situation. And I was this way, I forced myself to do it. But to get into a situation where they had to be vulnerable in front of other people because it’s terrifying. And I do the improvisation workshop. I work with an I have an improv partner, which I just think it’s a hysterical way to look at it because everyone should have an improvisation person, right? But I have an improvisation person who’s also an introvert and we co-lead the class. She’s by far the expert and she’s had training at Second City and all sorts of things around that. But what we found is that gently going through but going through these communication exercises helps them because you learn to focus on the other person and it’s always “yes, and” in improvisation and we look at it as we explain it that your partner is giving you a gift and you take that gift and you build on that gift and it just involves so much paying close attention to what the other person is saying or doing that it helps build the improvisation skills. So we do that as part of the class. I’ve been told they have too much reading to do for one credit class. I’ve heard some of the students and then I have them put together a leadership development plan and provide them some feedback on it. And there’s some ancillary reading Daniel Coyle’s The Culture Code, which is an amazing book about creating safe spaces in corporations where you can be vulnerable. I had them look at some other things, but it’s just been absolutely cool because to me, it’s not really an academic class, they don’t really get a test, but what they do is a series of reflection papers and I get to see where they’ve gone from the beginning of the class to the end of the class. And seeing that growth or the change in perspective is just amazing. And I feel like what I’m doing with this is and they don’t know it necessarily because they are investing in themselves to become leaders, and to them, Oh, it’s just the one credit class I need to take to graduate. But that has been absolutely awesome. Seeing how people had developed and even following up with them a few years later in terms of they took this away, it totally changed their view of how they could operate in society or in a corporation or something like that. And it’s like helping them discover those tools is just such an awesome privilege.
David Hall [00:36:46]:
Yeah, that sounds awesome. I could have used a class like that in college for sure because I learned to embrace my introversion much after college and gosh, we could probably do another whole show on improvisation. It’s come up a lot on this podcast and it doesn’t seem like introverts could do that because we do like to think ahead of time. But I’ve really heard the benefits of it. So yeah, we’ll have to address that sometime. But just getting into leadership, what makes a great leader and how is leadership different for introverts and extroverts? How is the approach different?
Ben Woelk [00:37:29]:
So I don’t know whether it’s a strictly introvert or extrovert thing, but I am very much focused on servant leadership in the sense that I am not out for the accolades myself or to be recognized as the leader. And in fact, in some ways it’s not fair, but I almost feel like if someone eagerly, eagerly wants to be a leader, they’re not ready to be a leader sort of thing because why are they pursuing it so much? For me, it’s helping the team achieve their goals, right? Helping them excel in what they’re trying to do. Now, to be fair, you do sometimes get recognition around doing that, but it’s never been the driving force and it’s always been an absolute shock to me when I do receive any recognition around it because it’s not my focus. I want my team to do well. I want them to really leverage their strength, understand how to overcome obstacles, because we’re all going to face them and understand that if they’re moving into a leadership direction, helping them learn to equip themselves, I think is probably the better approach around it. There is a quote, of course, I didn’t write it down, so I don’t have the name of the person, but it’s one of these the best leader idea is when you’re gone that people don’t even realize that you were there leading them. Now, I don’t know whether I totally agree with it, but the idea is to me is you’re not trying to leave your imprint on them, you’re trying to help them. Well, maybe leave their own imprint, but more importantly, be able to accomplish what it is they’re trying to accomplish. What I have to be careful of is, depending on who is on your team, some really crave a lot more direction than other people do. And I’m very good with people in terms of if they want to run and do it in whatever way and I can provide feedback. I’m great with health starters. It’s harder for me when I have to provide continued structure for someone because I’m really trying to nudge them out of the nest and say you can fly, you can fly. I don’t have to build a stairway to get you to the next point. But it’s interesting because I can be an effective leader. But I also recognize that it’s not necessarily comfortable for everyone who might be part of that team.
David Hall [00:40:17]:
And then I think in the beginning you were talking about that you didn’t feel like you could be a leader because the stereotype is large and in charge kind of thing. What do you think about that myth?
Ben Woelk [00:40:32]:
Can I cite the data exactly? No. But I think overall that there’s no evidence that leaders like that do better or their companies do better or anything else. Now, what’s interesting is if I’m at a conference and I’m in a leadership role, like when I was president of that organization, I very much played that role. I knew I needed to welcome people. I needed to introduce myself to people, I needed to help them make connections. It was well outside my comfort zone. And people, oddly enough, I did a webcast with someone early on about this journey thing and he told me when he saw me at a conference, he said, it’s all BS because you are not an introvert. Because when I’m at that conference, I really project more in the extroverted leader mold in the sense that not standing in front of everyone, though I’ll do that if I have to. But in terms of just the willingness to reach out to people and welcome people when I didn’t know people, I make connections if I have to. It feels like at a conference, if I don’t know people, if there are people I know, I tend to glom around them. But I’m also very cognizant of deliberately trying to make connections now and probably more importantly, doing follow ups after those opportunities. One thing I’ve seen over the last few years actually, since COVID is we have to be so deliberate in providing opportunities for people to connect because we don’t have the hallway conversations, or at least we didn’t, right? So where you might develop a friendship just walking in between meetings with someone and be much more spontaneous. Now, it’s like we have to actually provide those channels and it’s a lot more difficult. A lot of the work I started looking at in the last few months I did a conference presentation last month was the idea of trying to create a sense of belonging, engaging the virtual workforce. And I started looking a lot more into the belonging aspects and learning a lot more. I’m not an expert in it, but learning a lot more about it and how important kind of both the big doing the big things intentionally are really important, but doing the small things intentionally are super important too. So this idea of providing cues to help people realize they belong, making sure that and I face what they call belonging uncertainty, where, why didn’t I get asked to? That maybe this isn’t the right place for me sort of thing, and it gets into the whole fitting in versus being accepted as you are. It’s an enormously rich area to explore, which we obviously didn’t leave time for.
David Hall [00:43:32]:
And that’s the thing. We can do all kinds of things as introverts. We’re talking about leadership, we’re talking about networking. And our approach is just going to look different. We’re going to bring our strengths into it. We’re going to bring our needs into it. I’m not going to want to just enter a room of 100 strangers and talk to all hundred. I know people that I know, extroverted friends and colleagues, they would want to meet all 100 as quickly as they can, and I’m going to want to have some deep conversations. And that’s one thing I’ve really learned, is that’s okay, it’s okay to have a goal and meet that goal and have the connections, have deeper connections, and it’s okay for my extroverted friend to do it their way, but my way is okay. And I’m using my strengths. And that’s the whole thing,
Ben Woelk [00:44:18]:
David. The key thing about that is figuring out who those people are that are like that. Right. And so you’ve got that crowd of people in the center of the room, which no, I don’t want to be there, but if you see the people around the edges, either by themselves or in groups of two or three, those tend to be the people that I will gravitate towards and I end up having really long conversations with. But no, don’t throw me into the middle of one of those scrums. I guess what it feels like.
David Hall [00:44:48]:
Ben, we’ve had such a great conversation. Just tell us about the work that you do with introverts. What were some of the opportunities that are available?
Ben Woelk [00:44:57]:
So I’m doing offering virtual workshops and in person workshops around introverts and leadership and also including the improvisation component. We have figured out how to do that effectively in zoom, although it’s not the same as being in person, obviously. So I’m building workshop type things. I’ve offered some virtually over the past year, kind of three part workshops, hour and a half a week, over three weeks sort of thing, which has worked very well. I’m creating coursework. I don’t have it all in place yet, but part of my intention is to create some introverts and leadership self paced course type stuff available on whatever teaching platforms. So I’m working on that. My day job of being Governance Awareness and Training Manager does take up a fair amount of time, and I also adjunct teach in a couple of different subjects. And I’m also working with RIT certified, which is Rochester Institute of Technology’s Workforce Development Group. I am not working on the introverted side, but I’m helping them build a Mastery Certificate in Technical communication. So I had mentioned earlier all of these opportunities I don’t say no to. It gives me a very busy, full, in a sense, calendar and schedule. But I’m still trying to make sure that I find that time to carve out at least some spaces during the week where I can go one on one with someone, especially if it’s an introvert who needs help on anything.
David Hall [00:46:43]:
Yeah, sounds like some great work. Is there anything else you want to add today that we haven’t talked about?
Ben Woelk [00:46:49]:
Not a lot at this point. This has been a great conversation. Happy to have another one because like I said, we could probably talk for hours. I’m sure we could, and other people may find it interesting at times as well. But I think a lot of key things, a lot of it I think, is just people learning to believe in themselves. And sometimes you do need people to talk to to be able to do that. Because even for me, if other people saw leadership abilities in me that I did not see so you need mentors essentially, or coaches as sounding boards, I think is the other thing I would bring to this. And I do mentoring and coaching as well. But you can reach me on the Benwoelk.com for that.
David Hall [00:47:37]:
Okay. That’s the best way to get a hold of you is your website.
Ben Woelk [00:47:40]:
Yeah, or Ben Woelk@gmail.com is absolutely fine because I port everything into that anyway.
David Hall [00:47:48]:
All right, this has been a wonderful conversation and just like I agree, we could talk for a lot longer. This has been very helpful. So thanks again, Ben, for being on today.
Ben Woelk [00:47:58]:
Okay, thanks for the opportunity.
David Hall [00:48:00]:
Again, thank you so much for joining me. I look forward to further connecting with you. Reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out the QuietandStrong.com website, which includes blog posts, links to social media and other items. Send me topics or guests you would like to see on the show. If you’re interested in getting to know yourself better, there’s now a free typefinder personality assessment on the Quiet and Strong website. This free assessment will give you a brief report, including the four-letter MyersBriggs code. I’ll add a link to the show notes there’s so many great things about being an introvert, so we need those to be understood. Get to know your introverted strengths and needs and be strong.